Variations on Two Common Themes

Posted in Feature on June 26, 2008

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."

This week’s Swimming with Sharks has only one PTQ Top 8 proper to discuss, but it is a doozy.

As always, the blue box is the PTQ win; the white boxes are Top 8 near misses. Congratulations to Bryan Eleyet, who took down the Portland, Oregon PTQ.

Quick ‘n Toast
Doran Shaman
"Little Kid" Green-White

Quick ‘n Toast

Last week we had a PTQ win from a Quick ‘n Toast variant with Fulminator Mage main deck, like the one played by Thomas Huteson in Portland...

Thomas Huteson

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...But this PTQ’s winner winner was good old regular Quick ‘n Toast, played by Bryan Eleyet:

Bryan Eleyet

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Cool new tech for this week seems to be more permission out of the sideboard. Negate, the un-Remove Soul, seems like a good answer to all-in breakers like Mind Spring out of the mirror; Counterbore may be even better. The latter seems like it would punish decks leaning on recursion or key facilitators, such as Mulldrifter, though it seems very expensive and situational.


We are used to typical Faeries decks winning and placing highly at PTQs, such as the one piloted to third position by Ryan Ward...

Ryan Ward

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...But what we haven’t looked at in recent editions of this column is a more broadly polychromatic Faeries (reminiscent of a build by PT–Hollywood Mana Ramp standout Marijn Lybaert), like the eighth place finisher, Martin Goldman-Kirst:

Martin Goldman-Kirst

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Four Vivid Creeks.

Four Vivid Marshes.

Staple them together, and you get two lands that look like they produce black and blue but secretly pump out red or green mana in service to Firespout.

Vivid Creek
Vivid Marsh

We’ve established in the last couple of months that largely due to the printing of Bitterblossom, Faeries has shifted slightly from aggro-control to more or less “true” control. It is a sit-there Counterspell deck that has the space to play threats during the opponent’s turn (or alternately with “something unpleasant on the stack,” as Jon Sonne used to say when Aether Bursting his Mystic Snake or Flametongue Kavu) in order to generate card advantage or simply raise the hairs on the back of the other guy’s neck. What do sit-there Counterspell decks love? That’s right, a Wrath of God Damnation. In Block, black and blue don’t have a proper Damnation, but they can splash Firespout with Vivid lands in order to get much of the effect.

Red hits the Merfolk or Kithkin on the ground, and not playing green allows the Faeries deck to maintain its own board position freely, which is not an option with a legitimate Damnation. On balance, were Goldman-Kirst behind in a mirror, he could apply the green side to take out the opposing Faeries, potentially as a surprise play.

The eight Vivid lands also let him splash a trio of Wispmares out of the sideboard, Bitterblossom chompers extraordinaire and, conveniently, 1/3 bodies left back to block any remaining 1/1 Faerie Rogues.

Doran Shaman

Christopher Pauly

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Leaf-Crowned Elder
The most exciting new deck to come out of this PTQ is the Doran Shamans build that Christopher Pauly took to second place. It is reminiscent of some other Shamans decks that we have seen with Rage Forger, but plays just much more awesome Shamans to go along with it.

The most awesome of all is obviously the one with the trickiest mana cost, Doran, the Siege Tower. Doran is, yes, a Shaman. He is awesome at battle in and of himself, and works just fine with Rage Forger. The little played—but still awesome—Masked Admirers... also a Shaman. You can pretty much just read Masked Admirers and see that this card comes down on the third turn following Bosk Banneret and clogs the ground while advancing Pauly’s board position.

Leaf-Crowned Elder... Alpha Shaman among Shamans. That’s the one that flips up the Fulminator Mages and Chameleon Colossuses (convenient) does all the disgusting card drawing. The Doran Shaman deck draws lots of cards with its four-drop Shamans, blows up land with its three drop Shamans, kills almost everything with its two mana black spells, and can kick all kinds of butt with Doran and Chameleon Colossus.

And yes, it can seamlessly play three-drops next to Teneb, the Harvester’s colors (also on three), in a base green deck that needs green on the second turn, and as much as to run properly. How can this be accomplished? It’s Vivid lands and Reflecting Pool again!

Pauly ran eight Vivid lands next to Murmuring Bosk (which can admittedly pay whatever is needed on the normally difficult Doran), Reflecting Pool (of course)... and Primal Beyond. Primal Beyond is not an obvious choice in a deck like this with relatively few Elementals, but in addition to giving a lift on Cloudthresher or Fulminator Mage, Primal Beyond is an absolutely perfect pair to Reflecting Pool. The Primal Beyond might not be able to tap for everything (when it’s not an Elemental being played), but with Primal Beyond in play, Reflecting Pool has no such reservations.

Primal Beyond
Reflecting Pool

This deck is a testament to just how cool the mana in Block can be, and just how far we can push some of the tribal interactions.

"Little Kid" Green-White

Camran Ahmad

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Now obviously we saved the best for last. My favorite deck from the week is the "Little Kid" Green-White deck that Camran Ahmad ran, presumably cribbed from Brian David-Marshall’s article Expected and Unexpected, last week’s The Week That Was.

This is a deck that I have been working on with Asher Hecht (ManningBot) and Julian Levin (a.k.a. Mother Superior IV), present and past Number One Apprentices. The deck actually came to me while I was tabulating Regionals Top 8 listings, and I saw some Standard versions of the green-white strategy. While the deck doesn’t seem obviously such, it is actually almost as linear as the tribally themed decks we see elsewhere in this summer’s Block Constructed (Kithkin, Faeries, Merfolk, etc.). The green-white hybrid mana cards are super easy to play.... You can almost play only green sources of mana but for a particular All-Star that requires nine Plains.

Gaddock Teeg

Patrick Chapin recently challenged me to break Block, and while I don’t think I quite accomplished that, the "Little Kid" Green-White deck provides some nice resistance to about 80% of the commonly available matchups, largely due to Gaddock Teeg. If you stick Teeg (optimally on turn three in most matchups), he turns off most of the breakers in the format. Faeries loses the ability to race because it can no longer generate tempo with Cryptic Command, and in fact all eight commonly played permission spells go offline (the other typical four-of slot, Broken Ambitions has an “X” in the mana cost).

Why is turn three the so often the best turn to play Gaddock Teeg? If you play him on turn two, he might get killed by a Nameless Inversion; likewise, if you play him on turn two on the draw, Firespout. BDM called the deck a “Barkshell Blowout” and Barkshell Blessing is one of the key cards in the deck. This innocuous-seeming Giant Growth “counters” Nameless Inversion and Firespout, two of the few commonly played removal cards that get around Teeg in Block.

I have always approached deck design from a position of aggressive reaction—that is, allowing the rest of the metagame to shape choices and then attacking the expected—but as the "Little Kid" Green-White deck is a take on a linear group of cards that was in fact inspired pretty closely by recent deck lists elsewhere, it has some synergistically built-in offense. If you’re on the attack, two-drop into Shield of the Oversoul is a nice way to go, though my favorite has been Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers into Shield, which is pretty hard to break main deck.

The biggest incentive to this deck (and the leading deck when I first started working on the green-white deck, though now, as predicted, much less popular) is Kithkin / Mirror Master—the matchup, that is. Basically, "Little Kid" Green-White has a better drop at every mana point, can attack without reservation, and counters all the straight white breakers with Gaddock Teeg (no Spectral Procession, which is a six only masquerading as a three; nor Mirrorweave, obviously a four). Kithkin is a super easy matchup... You basically never get attacked after the first few turns, they basically never block because Barkshell Blessing will kill all their blockers, and even if you don’t draw Teeg and they have the nuts, you can turn it around with a surprise Cloudthresher.

Oversoul of Dusk
While there are many ways to break up the incentives to this deck, not very many are played in Block, so it is in a sense a metagame deck (you are gambling that you don’t get out-Rogued, or out-mid-ranged)... But there is a pretty big strategic hole in Elementals, and a potentially bigger one with the new Doran Shaman deck (talk about being “out-midranged!”). Shriekmaw is a big problem for this deck, and Reveillark is a super blocker, even if you have something along the lines of an Oversoul of Dusk out of the sideboard (which I would play, personally).

I like "Little Kid" Green-White a great deal just because I worked on it; the limiting factors are the popularity of Elementals in your area (and how good the Elementals pilots are) and whether there are still a lot of Kithkin in the local metagame. Up Elementals (or Doran Shaman) + down Kithkin (as seems to be the case this week) is not a promising combination for the "Little Kid".

Now while we only have the one Portland PTQ to analyze deck-by-deck, I have it on good authority that the Philadelphia-area PTQ was won by none other than former Portland-area New York transplant Gabe Carleton-Barnes. Gabe is a big lover of basic Islands, and he took his slot with format favorite Faeries. In addition, Gabe is a former member of the Top 8 Magic team that BDM and Matt Wang have put together (and certainly still part of the group’s extended family). In honor of all this, we bring you the Top 8 Burning Questions RE: Faeries at the Philly (or near-Philly) PTQ:

1. List, please?

Gabe Carlton-Barnes's Faeries

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2. What decks did you beat in the Top 8?

In the Top 8 I beat a Faeries Mirror (he had Ponder), Merfolk (he played turn-two Sygg on me all three games... I played turn-two Bitterblossom all three), and White Weenie. The Merfolk guy had Leech Bonder out of the board, and destroyed me with turn-three and -four Leech Bonders Game 2.

3. What is the major incentive to playing Faeries?

The major incentive to playing Faeries is that it is the best deck. It is versatile, adapting well to being the control or the aggro in any matchup, and that its cards are just very powerful. Most of your plays are at instant speed, be they threats or answers, and that means you can make decisions exactly when you want to and no sooner. No other deck in the format has that option outside of the occasional Makeshift Mannequin.

4. What was your toughest matchup in testing?

I’ve heard that the Elemental deck is tough, but I never tested it. I tested the three-deck metagame quite a bit, and although an explosive draw from White Weenie was scary, Faeries had the edge against both Five-Color Control and White Weenie if both players knew what was going on. Frankly, I was more worried about the mirror, which is why I went to 3 Thoughtseize in the main.

5. What deck, if any, did you lose to during the day?

The only round I lost was Round 5. I kept an Island, Mutavault, spells hand on the draw and never saw another land. My opponent played out some Kitchen Finks and Vivid lands and killed me quickly. I sideboarded for Five-Color Control only to discover that I was actually playing against a Green-Black-Blue Elves deck. Sans Nameless Inversion, I was cold to a turn-two Vanquisher.

Mistbind Clique
6. What card was your MVP?

I drew a lot of Bitterblossoms on the day, but the MVP was definitely Mistbind Clique. When you cast a Clique on the upkeep following your fourth turn, you just have this sense that you’re going to win the game, and it’s usually true if you play smart. If Wizards wanted to neuter Faeries, this would be the card to target. Bitterblossom is great, but it’s vulnerable to the same hate as the rest of the deck. Mistbind is a Time Walk and a really big body, the only one of its kind in the deck.

7. Why did you select the Fae?

I tested with Asher Hecht, Steve Sadin, and Julian Levin primarily. After the PTQ in Boston where I played White Weenie, Asher assured me that Faeries had to be the best deck—he had missed Top 8 but been very happy with the Fae, losing only the mirror I think. I was reluctant to run it because everyone said the mirror was really random and I hated Broken Ambitions. I found a way to solve both issues at once—I made room for maindeck Thoughtseize by cutting back on the Broken Ambitions. It improved the mirror, and the deck.

8. I assume if you had it to do all over again, you would play the same deck... but what changes, if any, would you make if you had to run it back?

I think the list is pretty clean, and I’m a big fan of the spell diversity offered by all the two-ofs in the main. Two Broken Ambitions was perfect. They didn’t clog my hand but they showed up often enough to make my opponent think about them. Mind Shatter was underwhelming, but I didn’t play against Five-Color Control at all so that may be why. I think Consign to Dream is probably better than Eyeblight’s Ending, so I’d switch those unless I expected a lot of Kithkin. Peppersmoke was also really good for me, so squeezing in a third (perhaps going to 1 Vendilion Clique) might be good, especially if you expect a lot of mirror matches. Vendilion Clique is pretty terrible in the mirror, as the red zone is unkind to 1-toughness men.


Based entirely on Gabe’s responses to our Top 8 questions, we can update the list above like so to account for one and a half Top 8s:

Quick ‘n Toast
Doran Shaman
"Little Kid" Green-White
White Weenie

Ta da!

Good luck to anyone battling in the lands of Lorwyn, Morningtide, and Shadowmoor this weekend.

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