After Worlds, most Four-Color advocates were shrugging and looking away when you asked them about their Faeries matchup. “Yeah, you know, it's pretty hard if they get the nut Blossom-Sprite-Mistbind-Cryptic draw, but you have some sweepers, and their deck isn't that good if they don't draw Blossom...but look at how good my Jund matchup is!”
Then Faeries took over the Extended queues on Magic Online and won the opening PTQ. Now, most of the Four-Color pilots are on the level. “Eh, it's not that good in game one, but after I board in a bunch of Stags and Fallouts, the match is actually pretty even overall.”
This article takes a look at how effective of a plan Great Sable Stag and Volcanic Fallout is against Faeries for Four-Color Control. I find that Stag and Fallout aren't nearly effective enough after sideboarding to make up for Four-Color's abysmal game one percentage; the sideboard cards only make the match about fifty-fifty after boarding.
When you're trying to get a broad understanding about a particular matchup, you'll generally want to start with pretty stock lists of each deck. Once you understand how the games play out when the lists are relatively stock, you can start experimenting with new technology to shore up particular weaknesses or attack particular pieces of the other guy's strategy. Until then, though, you want to make sure that you're not just testing two inbred lists against each other. After all, in a tournament, you're probably going to be playing against a list pretty similar to the stock version.
We're going to start with the last Four-Color list published by Luis Scott-Vargas. Whenever a big-name author publishes a list for a popular archetype, you can pretty safely use that list in your gauntlet for the next couple of weeks. Right now, all of the stock lists for Extended are coming from articles; the decks from Worlds are outdated, and there won't be any lists from major tournaments until GP Atlanta later this month.
This is pretty close to the deck Luis went 6-0 with at Worlds; the main update has actually been an overload on Faeries hate as a response to the dominance of Faeries on Magic Online. Faeries just won the first online Extended PTQ and has been all over the Daily Events and two-man queues. Luis's response to this has been to keep more or less the same configuration he has in the main to punish all of the midrange decks but goes up to four Great Sable Stag and four Volcanic Fallout after sideboarding.
(Note that Stag and Fallout are tactical trumps; neither of them really turns around the matchup from a strategic perspective. Rather, they're simply extremely strong value cards.)
Finding a stock Faeries list is a little more complicated. Jonathan Randle went 6-0 with Faeries at Worlds, but there were a few other Faeries lists at 5-1 and 4-1-1. None of the lists have any radically new technology that's going to make them jump out at people. Until very recently, there weren't many articles being written about Faeries, and there weren't any new tournaments to showcase new technology.
The biggest difference between the Faeries lists mainly hinges around whether or not you play Preordain, how many discard spells you want to play, how many and which removal spells to play, and whether or not you play twenty-five or twenty-six lands. Because there isn't really a stock Faeries list, I've created an amalgamation of a few different Faeries lists to get a feel for how different cards affect Faeries' Four-Color matchup:
Yes, that list is pretty ugly, and no, there's no sideboard yet. This is the shell that I started testing with; after some maindeck games, we'll have a much better idea of what we want the sideboard (and main deck) to look like.
There are two kinds of game ones: games where Faeries resolves Bitterblossom on turn 2 and games where it doesn't. Faeries rarely loses when it has Blossom on two; in fact, the only games where this happened involved Faeries never making it to four lands, and the games were still quite close. Four-Color doesn't have any good answers to Bitterblossom, and Four-Color can only get aggressive with six- and seven-mana threats. Volcanic Fallout can't do much other than prolong the inevitable for Four-Color.
Even when Faeries doesn't have Blossom on two (or when Four-Color manages to Leak it), the Four-Color deck still struggles. Four-Color basically has to set up Vendilion Clique into Jace, the Mind Sculptor to start gaining any sort of advantage, and Faeries is well equipped to fight over Jace with manlands, flash threats, and Jace Belerens. Because Faeries can answer Jace relatively easily, it's hard for Four-Color to punish Faeries for tapping out until Four-Color can represent Ultimatum, which means that Faeries can sculpt the board state to their wishes and resolve more or less whatever spell they want.
(Faeries can also just draw Bitterblossom on turn 5, of course; the card is still a huge threat)
This is only exacerbated by Faeries' use of discard. Four-Color has extremely limited card draw, so Faeries can look at a hand of permission and Esper Charm, take the Esper Charm, and then never trade a threat for a counterspell unless Faeries is setting up Four-Color to be bottlenecked on mana. Pre-board, the matchup is just a rout; Faeries is far, far ahead.
With this information, we can start tuning the Faeries deck a little tighter.
Preordain is pretty lackluster. When you actually get around to casting Preordain, it's pretty good, sure, but Faeries is pretty mana intensive. On turns 1 and 3, you have Creeping Tar Pits, Thoughtseize, and Inquisition of Kozilek all competing with each other. There are the obvious twos and fours on their respective turn, and on turn 5, it's pretty nice to be able to play Vendilion plus Mana Leak or play a two and pay for Mana Leak or something. There's just not a lot of time to cast Preordain. Once you do finally get a window to Preordain, if it's turn 1, you get to look for Bitterblossom; otherwise you're usually just trying to filter your lands and spells in the appropriate ratio. That's not really all that exciting.
Lands, on the other hand, are awesome for the Faerie deck. Faeries needs to make it to four in pretty much every game, and with all of the manlands and the Tectonic Edge, you'll always have something to do with excess mana. The twenty-sixth land is on the team.
As far as the split between Jace Beleren and Jace, the Mind Sculptor is concerned, I think Jace Beleren is superior. The Mind Sculptor is just so expensive; sure, you can set it up with Vendilion Clique, but they can still trade Fallout and Bolt for it and not be too far behind, and Faeries doesn't have many good ways to punish Four-Color for tapping out for the red removal spells. If you play Jace Beleren on three, though, and then sit back on Cryptic Command and Mistbind Clique, Four-Color has quite the hole to dig itself out of.
It's hard to notice any appreciable difference between Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek against Four-Color; most of the time, you're snagging Mana Leak (to set up Bitterblossom) or just Volcanic Fallout or Esper Charm. I missed on Inquisition once in the midgame, but all that Inquisition wanted to do was to trade with a Mana Leak, anyway, so it wasn't a big deal. Obviously, which removal spells you have against Four-Color are basically irrelevant.
So we're cutting the Preordains and the Jace, the Mind Sculptor for a land, a Jace Beleren, and a mystery card to arrive at our Faeries maindeck. Which land to add is an interesting decision; I don't want to add another tapland, so Tar Pit is out. I think that I either want an Island or a Tectonic Edge, and I'm going to try out the Tectonic Edge and see whether or not the second Edge is too greedy.
As for the last card, it would either be the fourth Mistbind Clique, a fifth discard spell, or a fifth removal spell depending on what sorts of matchups you most want to shore up. In the mirror, you want the discard spell; against more aggressive decks, you'd like the removal spell, and against the control decks and the slower midrange decks, you'd like the fourth Mistbind. I suspect that the sideboard for Faeries is going to end up being pretty tight and that I'm going to want some extra discard spells for the mirror and to snag Stags and Fallouts, so I'm going to play a third Inquisition in the main and free up some sideboard space.
The entire point of this article was that I wanted to see whether or not Four-Color Control decks could salvage their Faeries matchup by boarding up to four Volcanic Fallouts plus four Great Sable Stags, so obviously, the Four-Color deck is going to be bringing in the Stags and the spare Fallout. Four-Color has some other options, too; Celestial Purge is mostly in the board to fight red aggro decks, but Purge to fight Bitterblossom is a possibility. Four-Color can also bring in Thoughtseize, if it so desires.
I played around with a few different configurations before settling on a sideboard plan I liked for Four-Color:
Vendilion Clique is pretty unexciting against a deck full of 1/1s, and Day of Judgment is pretty bad against Faeries. Finding room for more cuts was a little trickier. There are a lot of cards that are kind of marginal but that you need in certain situations. Sunblast Angel and Wurmcoil Engine are both pretty slow and vulnerable to Mana Leak, but without them, the Four-Color deck is almost incapable of beating a Mistbind Clique. Even the fourth Cryptic Command isn't that insane for Four-Color; the control deck is almost never in a position where it can sit back with four mana and force Faeries to blink first, though it can happen with Stag. Ultimately, though, I wound up benching Cruel Ultimatum. Resolving Ultimatum is pretty damn hard; when Four-Color is in a position where it can resolve a seven-mana sorcery, it's usually in pretty good shape anyway.
Celestial Purge and Thoughtseize weren't really worth the effort. Purge is good if your opponent draws exactly one Bitterblossom and plays it on the same turn that you leave mana up for Purge; otherwise, it's not that great. Drawing multiple Purges against their no-Blossom draw is a sure way to lose, and even when you successfully Purge their Blossom, all you do is maintain parity in a matchup you're behind in. Thoughtseize isn't something you can rely on to hit Blossom, and Faeries is redundant enough that one Thoughtseize isn't usually enough to cripple them. It's also pretty hard for Four-Color to cast Thoughtseize when the Vivid lands have to do so much work casting Stag and Fallout.
(I recognize that using Vendilion to clear the way for Jace is important in Four-Color's game one strategy, but after boarding, relying on Stag is higher percentage.)
Figuring out the sideboard configuration I wanted for Faeries was much trickier. I wanted to test a few different answers to Great Sable Stag, but I also wanted to see if Faeries should pack in extra counterspells or extra discard or find a way to add more card drawing. I ended up settling on:
(Lists with more removal spells in the maindeck will want to cut all of them; your sideboard should be built such that you can cut all of the cards that might be dead in some matchups for cards that at least do something productive.)
As you can see, I ended up liking Molten-Tail Masticore as my answer to Great Sable Stag. Basically, to fight Stag, you can use either Wall of Tanglecord or Masticore. Now, sure, Masticore is a threat and a trump while Wall is just an answer, but against Four-Color, Faeries just needs to hold percentage, so using Wall to maintain parity isn't the end of the world. However, Wall falls to Stag plus Lightning Bolt, whereas Masticore is pretty much invulnerable once you get an untap. There are a few strikes against Masticore: it's a four, so if Four-Color manages to cast Stag on three on the play and untaps with Mana Leak or Cryptic, you're in trouble. Similarly, they can untap into Jace, which is also bad news. (They can also play Fallout plus Bolt, but in that situation, the Masticore isn't any worse than Wall.)
Weighing against all of this is the fact that if you untap with Masticore, it's pretty hard for Four-Color to kill, plus it can actually beat a double-Stag draw. Over the course of a couple dozen games, in only one game did Masticore not being Wall lose me a game, while Masticore explicitly won four games. That's good enough for me.
(That's not to say that Masticore is better than Wall in every matchup, but it's probably worth testing. Masticore sure does stand in front of basically every creature in Jund decks pretty effectively.)
As for the question of playing extra discard, permission, or card drawing: Four-Color's best spells after sideboarding are Esper Charm, Fallout, and Stag, so boarding extra counters only helps against one of those. Extra card drawing is reasonable, but both versions of Jace are rather poor against Stag, and Jace's Ingenuity is quite expensive.
More to the point, though, Four-Color is a deck that just doesn't have a lot of velocity; it usually has to plan a strategy around a key card in the opening hand, and if Faeries can strip that card with discard, the rest of Four-Color's hand is usually pretty bad. Because Faeries almost never wants to take a four with Inquisition, I brought in the fourth Inquisition over the third Thoughtseize because I think Inquisition is better in other matchups.
There isn't the same clean distinction between “games where Faeries has Bitterblossom” and “games where Faeries doesn't have Bitterblossom” after sideboarding; Sable Stag throws off the calculations a bit. But games aren't determined by whether or not Four-Color plays Stag on three, either; things are more complicated than that. Sometimes Bitterblossom can be a liability against a Fallout-heavy draw accompanied by Stag, and sometimes Four-Color just straight up loses to the enchantment. Sometimes Stag completely overwhelms Faeries, and sometimes it's just Trained Armodon.
Because game one is so bad for Four-Color, Four-Color generally needs to draw some sideboard cards to be in the post-board games. And indeed, games where Four-Color has Stag on three, Fallout on five, and Fallout on seven are pretty tough for Faeries. Games where Four-Color plays a Stag, and Faeries comes back with Masticore are usually hard for Four-Color unless Four-Color can land a Jace and bounce the Masticore.
Basically, you can use the sideboard cards as a lens to analyze the post-board games. Because Four-Color generally needs a Stag and a little extra help to win the game, you can pretty safely assume that Faeries will win if it can handle the Stag. Still, just a Stag isn't going to win the game for Four-Color; Faeries can race a Stag pretty easily. Four-Color also needs some Fallouts to go with the Stag, all while making sure that Faeries never gets an opportunity to untap with a 4/4 in a position to race Stag. Things are still quite tough for Four-Color; there are a lot of things to juggle.
First, it's important to recognize what Volcanic Fallout and Great Sable Stag actually do in the matchup. Volcanic Fallout is a sweeper that also nugs Faeries for two. Simply sweeping the board is only going to buy a few turns against a Bitterblossom unless you have some other way to pressure Faeries' life total. Against a non-Blossom draw, Fallout is mostly only good for killing a pesky Vendilion Clique, but Four-Color has to be wary of Faeries sneaking a Mistbind Clique into play in response to the Fallout.
Basically, Fallout is only good against Faeries if you have some sort of pressure to go with it; otherwise Faeries will just rebuild and grind you down several turns later. This is why Great Sable Stag and Fallout are so good in conjunction against Faeries; the Stag provides pressure that Faeries has a very hard time answering directly, and Fallout ruins most of Faeries' attempts to race.
Stag on its own, however, is just a 3/3 that's hard to block and tough to kill. Still, racing a Stag with Mistbind Clique isn't too hard, especially if you have a Mutavault to chump with or a Cryptic to buy an extra turn. You need to have Stag and some other relevant interactions to keep Faeries down.
Note that because of how easily Four-Color can use Fallout to wipe the board, Faeries should trade Spellstutter Sprite for just about any spell given the opportunity. You might not get a second chance.
Four-Color has an embarrassingly difficult time actually beating a Mistbind Clique (or any 4/4 really), so if you can resolve it, fire away. It's perfectly fine to main phase Mistbind if you just want a 4/4 flier instead of Mana Short. Along the same lines, you can usually main phase Vendilion Clique on turn 3 and snag Four-Color's sick three-drop.
The second Tectonic Edge was quite good. There are plenty of colored sources; the main problem with Faeries is getting up to a fourth mana for Cryptic Command. I didn't lose any games because I drew the second Edge plus another colorless land and couldn't Cryptic on four.
“When you destroy a Bitterblossom, you don't just spend three mana to their two. You don't just give up two cards to their one. You also turn all of the other Bitterblossoms in their deck into great cards, instead of dead cards.
If you try destroying every Bitterblossom you see, you'll often run out of gas. This is not the fight you want. If you just embrace the Bitterblossom, you will find that it is certainly still their best card, but your win percentage will go up. No question it is hard to fight Bitterblossom, but trust me. Try not destroying the Bitterblossom.”
Now, sure, if you have extra card drawing in hand or if Faeries has mulliganed or they're playing Blossom on three or you have some other read that they're all-in on that particular Blossom, sure, go ahead and kill it, but it's pretty important for Four-Color to keep a steady stream of cards flowing, and you can't do that if you're using Esper Charm on their Blossoms.
Faeries shouldn't be afraid of draw-go Magic when Faeries can keep hitting land drops. All of the threats that Four-Color are going to draw are expensive and sorcery-speed; Faeries is going to draw cheap threats with flash.
There are some situations where both Faeries and Four-Color need to recognize when mana will be tight in upcoming turns. There are some situations where it's important to burn a Cryptic Command to save a few points of life because you'll be fighting counter wars in the next two turns, but you need to be able to take one more hit from a Stag in three turns, and if you wait, your opponent might be able to win a fight over that Cryptic later, so you need to spend it now.
The final Faeries list:
So, yeah, the deck full of flash threats and counterspells beats the slow, ponderous, sorcery-speed control deck. Who would've thought?
Kidding aside, it's important to recognize how powerful sideboard trumps are. In this case, Faeries doesn't need to worry too much about Great Sable Stag out of the sideboard of control decks. More aggressive Jund decks, on the other hand, might be a different story. I can write another article about that matchup if people are interested. Let me know in the forums.
max dot mccall at gmail dot com