Focus on Faith’s Fetters

Posted in Feature on February 23, 2006

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

Faith's Fetters
It doesn't look like much, does it?

When I first saw Faith's Fetters, I mistakenly assessed it as nothing more than the latest in a long line of White "Pacifism" enchantments (Arrest, Cage of Hands, and so forth). I thought, "Well here's one of these cards show up in every block, high picks in draft usually, but are rarely exciting in Constructed in those few instances when they see play." Besides being largely underwhelming for the purpose of 60 (75) card decks, since Pacifism, the line of defensive Auras has for the most part also gotten more expensive; Arrest offers a little bit more than Pacifism… but costs a little bit more. Cage of Hands offers a little more versatility than most Auras, but, again, is a mana more expensive. That latter card was probably the best Constructed example in this group because of in-Block buddy Tallowisp, but without that Spirit (which, incidentally was outmoded by Saviors of Kamigawa)? Cage of Hands, as with the Scions of Pacifism as a class, have never been the kinds of cards - even answer cards - that I have ever really wanted for Constructed options. At twice the cost of Pacifism, I just didn't think Faith's Fetters would be very good, and even said so: "People don't play Pacifism at two mana, I don't know that gaining four life makes it much more attractive at four."

To say my first impression of Faith's Fetters was wrong would be an understatement on the level of "Necropotence was a popular tournament card." In only four or five short months, Faith's Fetters has proven itself to be one of Standard's staple answer cards, finding a place in not only decks like Enduring Ideal - where its card type and veritable Swiss Army Knife palette of defensive capabilities allow it to both serves multiple purposes and synergistically go long game once the “combo” has been achieved - but in decks as disparate as G/W Ghazi-Glare to four-color Ninja (which doesn't even touch on decks like Fungus Fire or Fungus Rock). My mistake in evaluating this card is that I initially thought it could only target creatures, when in fact Faith's Fetters gets workouts with threats like Greater Good and Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree on a regular basis.

Just look at the Top 8 from this past World Championships. Faith's Fetters made it into three decks with vastly different plans, where they all used the same card for vastly different reasons:

Akira Asahara

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Andre Coimbra

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Shuhei Nakamura

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What “Wins a Game?”

A good rule of thumb for aspiring deck designers, conceived of by Tuesday's resident Pro Tour Champion about six or seven years ago, is that cards that cost four or more mana should "win the game" all by themselves; think back on this when you are having problems making your rough draft cuts to 60 and you will be amazed by how much easier the early stages of tuning can be. That said, “win the game” can be a little vague when taken too literally… Consider the eternally popular reactive spell Wrath of God - it doesn't win the game in a literal proactive sense… but the effect of destroying all the opponent's creatures can surely create a dramatic swing in tempo and generate tons of card advantage. Sort of the contra positive of Zvi's suggestion, Wrath of God can make it difficult or even impossible for the opponent to field his win. While Wrath of God doesn't (usually) eliminate the 20th life point, its effect more often than not has the opponent slumping in his chair, puts him on his heels. When I initially misevaluated Faith's Fetters, I was thinking about the new card in the context of a four-or-more mana spell without considering how it compares in a practical sense with Wrath of God. It certainly isn't obvious, but Faith's Fetters can generate much the same card and tempo advantage that Wrath of God does, and performs even better than the classic creature sweeper in many anti-aggro situations.

First thing's first: Faith's Fetters in the abstract is a little bit better than the quintessential one-for-one. Even if it doesn't remove permanents Desert Twister style, Faith's Fetters deals with basically anything in the short term. Because of this, decks with Faith's Fetters can often cheat on sideboard space that would otherwise have been filled with Pithing Needle. Many times Faith's Fetters actually does a better job of dealing with a threat than Pithing Needle… but as it costs three more mana, that probably isn't a lot to ask.

The Need for Three

Given the current Standard environment, the fact that Faith's Fetters doesn't actually remove permanents as it deals with them is more advantageous than you might first think. Ravnica Block comes right after the Legend-laden Kamigawa Block. The paradigm for big threats in Kamigawa Block was to play multiple copies of the same cards, utilizing the new Legend Rule to win attrition wars by playing, and ideally drawing, your redundant copies of the best Legendary threats. Control decks especially played and play relatively small numbers of the same cards (say, three or four Tide Stars, three or four Clouded Mirrors of Victory). By using Faith's Fetters as your response to one of these creatures, you not only answer the immediate threat posed by a powerful offensive weapon, you can decrease the efficiency of the opponent's future draws due to the Legend Rule. How is he supposed to follow up? If you had actually banished his Legendary Moonfolk Wizard, the opponent could just tap for the replacement in his hand. If he does so with Faith's Fetters on the first, they both take a walk to the graveyard. (I am not completely ignoring the potential downside of double Dragon Spirit boards… You'd be facing those effects whether or not Faith's Fetters were in the mix.) By not actually removing a threat, Faith's Fetters can be a more effective defensive measure in a format that includes Kamigawa rares.

Umezawa's Jitte
There is no better example of this Aura's effectiveness against Legendary threats than when it is attached to Umezawa's Jitte. Quite simply, this four-mana Pacifism replacement is probably the best answer to the format's most dominating threat. Not only does Faith's Fetters "turn the Jitte off" the same way it can answer a creature, but because it is a Legendary piece of equipment, the Jitte is subject to the same Legend Rule problems as Meloku when trying to find a follow up. Therefore as many as three copies of Umezawa's Jitte are necessary to defeat a single Faith's Fetters. If you believe the commentators' contentions from Pro Tour Philadelphia 2005 that Umezawa's Jitte, considered by some to be an overpowered card, is the only reason that aggressive decks are viable, the veritable “need for three” makes a strong case for Faith's Fetters as a major incapacitator of the beatdown (the four life points are no picnic, either).

When we think about the card advantage of Wrath of God, the results on the board usually show some pretty clear math: If you have Iwamori of the Open Fist and a Llanowar Elves in play and I show you Wrath of God, it is pretty easy to see that I just got the archetype two-for-one. But what about the card advantage of Faith's Fetters? When you have a Iwamori in play and a second Iwamori in hand and I answer your first one… what does that say about your second one? Forgetting for a moment about the so-called need for three to get past a single Faith's Fetters, or the obvious two-for-one resulting from your play of Iwamori on top of Iwamori to clear the Fetters (before, I hope, you intend to run the third), think for a moment how your second Legendary creature is blanked in hand. It has almost no inherent utility in the short term. In numerous matchups, a redundant Umezawa's Jitte, for example, is anything but a blank. You are expecting your first sidearm to bite a Mana Leak. In a symmetrical brawl, you play four despite the Legend Rule for the express purpose of trumping Jittes and winning the war. This is similar to the choice to lose the utility of creatures you keep in hand because you are afraid losing too many to Wrath of God. Faith's Fetters, even when it is not interacting directly with a card in hand, can rob it of its usefulness.

Time Walk Your Graveyard

Time Walk
The last thing I want to talk about is the four life points. Over the past couple of years, R&D has tried very hard to make life gain respectable. Obviously the first fight of Lightning Bolt against Healing Salve was anything but a fair one. Lightning Bolt is close to the best burn spell ever printed; Healing Salve… not so much. The life gain element of Faith's Fetters, almost as a side note, creates a powerful tempo swing and potential card advantage as well. Think about a typical fight against a beatdown deck. The opponent plays a creature, then you play a creature and trade. He plays a couple more creatures, gets say two points in, and you play a Carven Caryatid. He really wants to get in there, so he swings with both, puts you to 16, and blows a burn card on your Caryatid (which just killed his 2/2), putting you up essentially two cards. He's not happy, but at least he has a clear path.

Now you put Faith's Fetters on his remaining creature.

Whoosh. Did you hear that? That was the wind leaving the beatdown's sails. Not only does your Faith's Fetters answer the threat at hand, but even if you put it on a vanilla Bear, you are undoing all the work that the opponent laid out for his first several turns. You are saying those two other creatures he lost, that burn spell he wasted as a naked one-for-three… They meant nothing. Look buddy, you have no beatdown to show for it, I'm up two cards, and I'm still on 20 life. Nice deck.

Back in 1997, another four-mana life gain card was popular. Gerrard's Wisdom generally gained more life in the short term, but was probably an inferior defensive measure in general to Faith's Fetters. Regardless, after an attrition war like the one described above, the Control player deploying his Wisdom would invariably say the same thing: “Time Walk your graveyard.” What an insult! Life gain is not a favorite among the tournament crowd, not compared to mechanics like Dredge or Affinity for Artifacts, but when applied to the right opponent, a single spell can demoralize the opponent by invalidating several turns and cards spent.


Combo Decks:
Because most combo decks play thin on defensive measures, Faith's Fetters is rarely a fit. However in decks like Enduring Ideal, it is a superb inclusion (just check out Asahara's four in the maindeck). Faith's Fetters can slow down the opponent's development, control style, while Ideal ramps its mana to the inevitable. Once Epic is online, Faith's Fetters provides a useful alternative to Confiscate. There are many times that the opponent has a threat that you technically have to deal with, but don't necessarily want to waste a Confiscate on. In these situations, Fetters is perfect, especially when a different stolen threat is already chomping away at the other guy's life points. More subtly, several consecutive Fetters will keep Ideal's life high enough to pay for Zur's Weirding until the game ends.

Beatdown Decks:
While not an obvious match, beatdown decks can nevertheless use Faith's Fetters to tip the scales on any number of fields of battle. The most obvious advantage can be had in the Jitte war. Most Jitte players run four copies of the Legendary Equipment, and in the wrong format, it is right to play up to four copies of Godo, Bandit Warlord just to win the Jitte war. Faith's Fetters gives beatdown decks another way to fight the opponent's Jitte, if not necessarily a way to win the war itself. Moreover, its versatility makes Faith's Fetters a reasonable answer to annoying – and mana intensive – permanents like Greater Good or Glare of Subdual. Lastly, the current default answer to three beatdown creatures is to tap out for a giant and hope for the best (or at least a two-for-one). Faith's Fetters, like Threaten in Red, makes this strategy much less attractive, not to mention less effective.

Control Decks:
The best match for the card at hand, Faith's Fetters will undoubtedly be one of the defining inclusions of the inevitable return of U/W Control in Standard come Dissension. What I didn't play up in this article is the usefulness of life gain as card advantage or a disincentive to Reach. Many Mono-Blue or U/R decks of the past have had “total control” of the board, but eventually lost to Red Decks because of their burn cards. Faith's Fetters elongates your life total, forcing the opponent to draw at least two more burn cards on average before he can Shock you out. If you've in fact got “total control” of the board, that kind of a virtual Hymn to Tourach should be relevant in a dizzying number of games.

Have fun… Better yet, have Faith!

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