This week I am helping Antoine with his column. We have tested Fauna Naya versus Pyromancer’s Ascension. I picked James Cleak’s version of Fauna Naya from UK Nationals and Antoine played Tobias Grfensteiner’s Pyromancer’s Ascension from German Nationals:
- 1 Baneslayer Angel
- 3 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 3 Cunning Sparkmage
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 3 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Obstinate Baloth
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Realm Razer
- 1 Stoneforge Mystic
- 1 Sun Titan
- 4 Vengevine
Fauna Shaman was popular before it was actually opened in packs. Survival of the Fittest is one of my all time favorite cards and I like the concept behind it. The synergy with Vengevine is brutal and Standard offers a wide panel of powerful creatures to constitute a complete toolbox without having to look for creatures in Blue or Black.
It is therefore logical that Fauna Naya was a popular deck at Nationals in the last couple of weeks. While not reaping all the gold it had some decent results: one Top 8 in France and Italy three in the UK (including the all-Naya final) one in Australia’s Top 4 and a win in Spain.
With the expected rise in popularity of Dredgevine I felt James Cleak’s version of Fauna Naya was probably the most accurate choice. The main difference with other versions is that he was running Bojuka Bog main deck. The Bog is an extra toolbox piece against Dredgevine and Pyromancer’s Ascension.
The Pyromancer’s Ascension player needs to be prepared to play against a fully loaded toolbox and I also wanted to see how much a difference Bojuka Bog would make in this matchup.
I honestly wasn’t sure how the matchup would turn out. Antoine assured me he was the favorite and that if he couldn’t beat Fauna Naya the deck wouldn’t beat anything…
Maindeck Games (16 wins 9 losses 62.5% games won)
On the play: 9 wins 3 losses
On the draw: 6 wins 6 losses
… And he was wrong. The matchup was definitely in my favor.
The games depended on a couple of factors.
Reasons Why I Lost:
While Fauna Naya is a very strong and definitely a viable deck it often relies on its mana creatures. When you’re facing a deck running 4 Lightning Bolts and 4 Burst Lightnings their life expectancy is quite short. When you don’t reach your third or fourth mana you leave far too much time for PA (Pyromancer’s Ascension) to dig for his Ascension. It is very likely he accomplishes his quest before you sort out your mana issues either related to your overall lack of mana or lack of White mana.
PA’s God Draws
There are games when PA draws well finds his ascension fast manages to counter or destroy the threats that would be able to foil his plan and kills you before you are able to do anything relevant.
To sum it up you lose either when you have a poor mana draw or your opponent has the nuts against you. And overall that happens 1/3rd of the time.
Reasons Why I Won
This is a lot more interesting. The reasons Antoine thought he was the favorite was that there aren’t too many cards that actually foil his plans. Naya is not extremely fast and Cunning Sparkmages do virtually nothing. There’s only one Qasali Pridemage and one very situational Bojuka Bog. I also think that Antoine was overestimating his deck.
Finding a card with the Blue cantrips you have in Standard is not as easy as it sounds. It is not a one-card combo deck. Once you actually get it you have to go on the quest which means that you can’t unload your hand just to find the card. You need to have a little backup at that point. When you start searching and have to pick up a Lightning Bolt instead of another cantrip to deal with a Fauna Shaman you lose A LOT of time. It could be a turn or two but that’s usually enough for Naya to put a clock on you. Bloodbraid Elf or Vengevine will do the job.
PA can’t let Fauna Shaman or Knight of the Reliquary live a second turn or else they will lose a crazy amount of time. Charging the quest is a lot harder when you have to fill your graveyard a second time. Charging a second quest when the first one has been destroyed takes a while too (especially since you have to dig for it).
The PA player can’t really play safe either since you may be holding Qasali Pridemage or Bojuka Bog in your hand and be waiting to play it at the right time baiting him with Fauna Shamans.
Qasali Pridemage is the absolute hoser as an actual threat and as a virtual threat. “Virtual” means that you don’t need to have it in play or in your hand for it to be relevant; the PA player will HAVE to kill your Shaman.
Bojuka Bog is a fine addition but is far from being as hosing as Pridemage. It makes Knights of the Reliquary worth killing quickly. It won me a couple of games I probably would have lost without it.
As a rule note (I had to check it so I guess it might be relevant for some of you): When a player casts a spell he already has in the graveyard with an Ascension on the board and you respond to it by fetching a Bog in your deck removing your opponent’s graveyard the effect of adding a quest counter doesn’t check on resolution if the spell is still in the graveyard (and will add a counter). It triggers when the player casts the spell. The stack ability only cares about adding a counter when it resolves. Therefore you should fetch your Bog as soon as you can when the graveyard looks to be filled with spells sometimes meaning at sorcery speed.
In this configuration I believe Fauna Naya has a significant edge. With a conventional sideboard plan I don’t really see how PA can ever have an Ascension out and online when he’s facing 2 extra Qasali Pridemages and potentially Celestial Purges.
The only cards I really wanted were the extra 2 Pridemages. Manabarbs sound okay but you don’t want to add another four-drop that doesn’t do anything when it meets Mana Leak or Flashfreeze. Vengevine and Bloodbraid Elf both do something when they are countered. Celestial Purge is probably worth boarding in if you expect your opponent to stick to the Ascension plan which is in my opinion quite a bad strategy. But if you know for sure that he sticks to it you can board in one or two. You don’t really want to cascade into one of them on an empty board…
You can easily sideboard out Baneslayer Angel Obstinate Baloth and Sun Titan. Three spells that cost over four that are too slow and that don’t do much in the matchup. You want to keep Cunning Sparkmages and Basilisk Collar in case your opponent goes for a creature plan (Coralhelm Commander/ Echo Mage) even though you don’t quite need them that much. Actually you might want to add a fourth…
Antoine was running Khalni Garden main deck so I suspected his sideboard plan to be very unconventional.
Sideboarded Games (2 wins 26 losses 7.7% games won)
On the play: 1 win 12 losses
On the draw: 1 win 12 losses
Wow… What a blowout.
Antoine sideboarded out the Ascension plan to bring in the Polymorph plan. I didn’t expect the matchup to be so unwinnable after boarding.
Your ways to hinder Polymorph plans are very limited. The only card you can rely on to help you “survive” is Cunning Sparkmage. It can shoot tokens when they are around and hit Emrakul with a deadly spark (equipped with Basilisk Collar). However this backup plan is far from being as reliable as the Qasali Pridemage plan to destroy Pyromancer’s Ascension... especially since Progenitus can also show up and your Sparkmage isn’t going to do much against that.
The problem is that you can be dead at anytime. Without Path to Exile or any way to destroy the token in response you are always vulnerable to Polymorph. Cunning Sparkmage is not going to live very long so you can “hope” it survives but losing your turn 3 or spending 3 mana on the smallest and most fragile threat to your opponent’s life total is rarely the right play.
We covered the fact that you can’t realistically thwart your opponent’s plan. Your other plan is to put as much pressure as possible as fast as possible. As I mentioned above Naya is not the fastest deck and it relies on its mana creatures.
After sideboard you are now facing a deck that runs 4 more removal spells for your mana creatures (4 Spawning Breaths) and 2 extra Counterspells (Flashfreezes). His plan is to survive long enough to find the two pieces of his combo and be at a comfortable life total when he has them without worrying as much about Fauna Shaman or about any way you can one-shot him.
In the end there is very little chance you’ll manage to pile up enough creatures to deal enough damage in time. Your creatures are too slow you have no direct damage and no efficient way to survive and he has too many removal spells and too many counterspells.
I won two games and I don’t think that was really significant. I pulled one out on the play with the perfect draw and him struggling to get his combo pieces together and another one on the draw with him not having a Red mana to prevent my freshly drawn Sparkmage from killing his Emrakul.
This matchup is interesting for both sides. On one hand you have Naya that puts its toolbox in game 1 to good use: one or two dedicated slots are enough to foil PA’s plans. A couple of dead or suboptimal cards made up by the strength of a few silver bullets. On the other hand you have a deck that is supposed to find its combo quickly but has a hard time when facing hate.
And then you have the games after sideboard. Naya’s strongest asset its toolbox becomes too slow and pretty much useless. It relies on its Plan B aggression which faces too big of a defense. PA which becomes Polymorph has nothing to worry about and goldfishes almost every game.
When a combo deck decides to switch plan after game 1 it usually becomes a suboptimal version of the deck it wants to be. It this case the Polymorph version after board is a very good and stable version of the deck.
There’s no creature in the format that survives the Red instants and deals with tokens or Emrakul/Progenitus. The only option I see to improve your poor chances that would not totally commit 3 or 4 slots of your sideboard to win this specific matchup is to run 3 or 4 Path to Exile. They might come up handy against Mythic Conscription at times and are probably the best and cheapest answer to kill the target of a Polymorph. I believe it could totally change the aspect of the matchup giving you a lot of time to set up a clock before he Polymorphs another token…
… And now that the rabbit is out of the hat (the Polymorph Plan B of PA) I expect Naya decks and others to adapt to it (by adding Path to Exile) making PA’s Plan B a lot less reliable…
I hope that helped!
Until next time!