There was an odd sequence of events following the unbanning of Bitterblossom. The immediate reaction was that "Faeries was Back!" which was followed with much excitement. People rushed out to get their Spellshutter Sprites and company together, positive that the tiny flying monsters of both Standard and Extended would surely translate to Modern.
Then, the backlash came forward.
"The problem is that it's playing a bunch of cards that don't really do anything," No. 2 Ranked Player Josh Utter-Leyton explained to Nate Price yesterday in reference to the bannings. "Mistbind Clique and Scion of Oona are just too expensive and don't do enough to be competitive in this format. Spellstutter Sprite and Cryptic Command and Bitterblossom are all fine cards, but the rest of the deck just isn't strong enough to be a viable competitor in Modern."
In fact, most teams didn't even really bother to test the deck beyond early assessments that seemed to instill in teams a sense of its mediocrity. It wasn't like the old days where counterspells reigned supreme. Zoo and Affinity existed to thoroughly dismantle the blue-black deck, and Abrupt Decay and Supreme Verdict made the "counter all the things" strategy simply untenable.
But six intrepid players didn't listen, and three of them made their way to Day Two. Those three also happen to be three of the best players in the room, full stop. Not the best Faeries players, but among the greatest in Magic.
Joel Larsson, who finished second at Pro Tour Gatecrash, No. 19 Ranked Player Shouta Yasooka, who has an incredible history of Pro Tour and Grand Prix finishes, and Alex Sittner, who has been bobbling around the Pro Tour for some time, all took Bitterblossom to strong Day One records.
Sittner and Yasooka both went 4-1 in the Modern portion while Larsson, battling food poisoning all day, went 3-2, oddly losing to one of his best match-ups (Ad Nauseam) and winning supposedly one of his worst (Zoo).
So why were these three players the only ones to take the leap after so much pre-tournament hype?
"It's tight against Zoo," Larsson said. "The deck has a hard time against aggressive strategies, so I think teams stopped testing it after that. But it's not actually that bad after sideboard."
There's also, of course, the strategy of just dodging overly aggressive decks in a format that is pretty wide open.
"I don't think Zoo decks will stay near the top," said Alex Sittner, who went 4-1 in Modern with Faeries. "And in five rounds I never played against it once."
One of the steps these three players took to mitigate the complaints people had was to eschew Scion of Oona completely. They clearly agreed the card wasn't good, but, instead of scrapping the deck because of it, they simply didn't play it.
Instead, each player has a variety of ways to take advantage of Bitterblossom outside the Fae lord.
Most prominent among those options is Sword of Feast and Famine, a spectacularly powerful card that Larsson and Yasooka are both running. Larsson, in fact, called Faeries "the best possible place for the Sword."
"There are so many ways it's good. Vendilion Clique checks their hand to make sure the way is clear, Mistbind Clique taps them down, and it's obviously great with Bitterblossom," Larsson said. "Plus, it works with the counterspells. If you're making them discard, they have to play right into them."
Sittner skipped the Sword, but is playing a significant number of Snapcaster Mages, while Larsson has none of the two-mana creature and Yasooka only has a single copy. Sittner pointed to Snapcaster as one of the key differences in his list that lets him thrive.
The three deck lists to make it to today do share a few things in common. Four Bitterblossoms, four Spellstutter Sprite, at least three Mistbind Clique, two to three Vendilion Clique, and a battery of discard and removal. But even then they don't agree on the particulars. Yasooka kept his four drops to a minimum, going with three each of Mistbind Clique and Cryptic Command. Instead, he played a pair of Liliana of the Veil.
And forget about the sideboards. Outside the odd Grafdigger's Cage, they bear almost no resemblance to one another.
One card to highlight, however, is Larsson's pair of Phyrexian Crusaders in the sideboard, creatures he said have been instrumental to his run.
"Against Pod, they have to go aggressive to play around counterspells, and Crusader just stops that," Larsson said. "Plus, if they gain infinite life, you can actually just poison them out."
Given all of that, when you look past the bad match-ups against Zoo and Affinity, the picture actually starts to look quite rosy.
"I don't want to say all of the combo decks are a bye," said Larsson, who actually lost to a combo deck, "but it's pretty close to a bye. All of the control decks are very good match-ups too."
Twin, for example, is a pretty solid match-up, and the surprise deck of the weekend – Amulet of Vigor – works mostly at sorcery speed, a fact that plays right into Faeries game plan. In fact, I watched Sittner dismantle an Amulet player at the end of the first day by actually Time Walking his opponent with Mistbind Clique one turn, and then patiently watching as the player went through all of his combos to try and attack with a Primeval Titan, only to simply show him a Cryptic Command.
And each of the players believes their record could be better. Larsson rued his loss to Ad Nauseam, of all things, and Sittner knew he made a very specific error that allowed Kai Budde a turn to resolve Blood Moon and close the door on a game Sittner felt he was well ahead in.
It's entirely possible Faeries is the best Day Two deck in the field. While Zoo and Affinity are still significant portions, as combined they're about 22 percent of the Day Two decks, nearly 80% of the decks today are decks other than those two aggressive strategies. If the Faeries players can dodge them, as Sittner did in Day One, or defeat them despite a bad match-up, as Larsson did, they have a strong shot at establishing Faeries as a real deck in the format.