2/21/2011 10:48:00 AM
I'm in a bit of a Magical Stasis
at the moment. I was playing a lot of Extended when it was a new format and I needed to prepare for Grand Prix: Atlanta. The I changed my focus to Standard, the format of Pro Tour: Paris. Now the next major constructed tournament I plan on playing is many weeks away, Grand Prix: Dallas in April. Without a need to focus on anything I have much more time to play Magic casually and dabble between formats. This Lull
will allow me to try out different decks and gain experience across formats. Standard, Extended, Draft, even Legacy are all fair game. We are also in the midst of a PTQ season, and in the throes of a new Standard format, so there are many interesting decklists available from those and a variety of other tournaments. I enjoy looking at results from tournaments around the world, seeing what did well, and determining why. There is often great insight in doing so, not to mention nuggets of technology.
One deck that has really stuck out to me is this Faeries list from the Extended PTQ that took place during Magic Weekend Paris. Masayasu Tanahashi placed second with this:
I actually played against Masayasu in the Pro Tour itself, in draft, and he was a strong player. When I heard he got second in this PTQ I was not surprised, but I was surprised by his list. Everything looks pretty normal until you reach the end. Hiding there is something pretty spicy...
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
Talk about tech! Sword of Feast and Famine
was a huge winner in Standard that weekend, and it will be sure to see tons of play in the future. Everyone seems to be talking about the Sword in either UW Squadron Hawk
- Stoneforge Mystic
control or in their own brews, but not so much in extended. Go for the Throat
was supposed to be the Mirrodin Besieged card that made the biggest splash in Extended, but now there is a new contender.
In years past extended Faeries utilized the powerful Umezawa's Jitte
. Jitte served as a win condition, life gain, creature removal, and much more, so its presence was expected. Its a perfect fit with the numerous cheap evasion creatures played in Faeries. Sword of Feast and Famine
is not so easy to analyze and its inclusion is not so obvious, so we need to really delve into what playing it accomplishes and the role it serves in the deck.
First off, Sword of Feast and Famine
(hereafter “SoFF”) costs 3 to play and 2 to equip. This is only a slight increase on Jitte, which was extremely cheap. In a new format with much more toned down cards I think it is safe to say this extra mana is not a deal breaker. The card is still very flexible, and often the mana you pay is irrelevant when you consider what SoFF actually does.
Faeries is a deck where you grind out the opponents with your cheap, efficient cards. You have discard, which helps you sculpt a plan and take away the opponents options. Counterspell
s and creature removal deal with their threats while gaining you tempo. You seek to gain even more tempo with your powerful blue spells like Cryptic Command
and Mistbind Clique
. These can either bury the opponent or put you in a position to win a game where you fell behind. Sure, sometimes the games are blowouts in either direction, but generally games with Faeries are very long and intricate. Often both players will be left without resources, allowing the Faeries player to win with manlands and something like a Spellstutter Sprite
. SoFF is the perfect card here, because it dramatically increases the power of these resources.
First off, does Faeries have the right mix of creatures that warrant playing Sword of Feast and Famine? Spellstutter Sprite
and Vendilion Clique
are both prime targets. They come down early in the game, but more importantly they come down instant speed. You may have no creatures when you pass the turn, yet be attacking with a Sword of Feast and Famine
equipped creature on your next turn due to a timely Spellstutter Sprite
or end of turn Vendilion Clique
. Mistbind Clique
is also an excellent target that has added synergy. Mistbind Clique
will tap the opponent out and stop any chances they have of interfering with your SoFF.
Where SoFF really shines is on manlands. Faeries plays Mutavault
and Creeping Tar Pit
, which is a crazy 8 additional bodies for Sword of Feast and Famine
. The biggest problem facing manlands, in regards to equipment, is the fact that you have to pay mana to activate the land AND pay mana to equip only to have both pieces fall apart at end of turn. This problem is no more, because all of that invested mana is instantly recouped when your Sword of Feast and Famine
equipped creature connects with the opponent. SoFF is particularly deadly on a Creeping Tar Pit
. That is evasion in its truest sense, and unless the opponent has removal you can be certain your creature will Deal Damage
and trigger SoFF, which is a pretty incredible 5 free damage. As I mentioned earlier, Faeries often wins by expending the opponents resources in a war of attrition and uses manlands to nickle and dime the opponent. SoFF makes that strategy even more effective. Once you have a SoFF in play, every manland you have becomes a very potent potential, yet very real, threat.
And of course I saved the best for last, Bitterblossom
. It is an endless source of flying tokens, and therefore an endless source of bodies that can wear SoFF. Generally, if you have a Bitterblossom
in play you are winning, so it is not something you want your SoFF to rely on. I SoFF is very good in Faeries without Bitterblossom
, but the fact that it combos so well with the best card in Faeries is just gravy. Often a players best plan to beat Bitterblossom
would be to use Volcanic Fallout
, or another form of mass removal to wait out the Bitterblossom
and find enough time to win through it. SoFF makes even one token threatening, so they will not have the time to wait to destroy more tokens. Great Sable Stag
is another card that could often race Bitterblossom
, as is Creeping Tar Pit
. SoFF gives you a much faster clock and allows you win a race against these cards and more.
Does Faeries have the right mix of creatures that warrant playing Sword of Feast and Famine? I think the answer is a resounding “Yes.”
Now lets dig deeper into what SoFF really does for the deck.
The main draw of SoFF are the “when equipped creature deals combat damage to a player” effects. First, the opponent must discard one card every time the creature connects with them. Every card a Faeries player can gain on the opponent is huge. Every time the opponent discards a card, it is one less threat the Faeries player has to deal with, it is one less option the opponent has. Faeries wins on slight margins, so any way to push ahead is game changing, and SoFF does just that. The discard ability is also interesting because it gives the opponent an opportunity to make a mistake. Sometimes the card to discard will be obvious, but the decision will often be very difficult. This is especially relevant here because Faeries is such a difficult deck to play against in the first place. All of the instants and multi purpose cards in Faeries are a nightmare, and making the puzzle harder is absolutely crushing to the opposition. They will have to figure out what you have and make a plan of action before discarding, and they will often make errors in doing so. SoFF allows you to put your opponent to more touch decisions and increases your psychological edge. For all of these reasons, SoFF seems excellent.
Moving on, lets examine the “untap all lands you control” ability. When I first saw Sword of Feast and Famine
I thought it was pretty bland. Making your opponent discard a card is solid, but the true power of untapping all of your lands post combat took a while to sink into my mind. Modern magic games tend to come down to opposing decks fighting over and jockeying for tempo, and SoFF gives you a huge edge in this battle. It allows you to use all of your mana on your first main phase, like to play or equip SoFF, or perhaps cast some removal, or even cast a planeswalker. This is no problem, because your lands will then be untapped post combat. This extra mana can be used to cast even more spells, but if you think about Faeries the real power becomes evident. You can simply pass the turn with a board full of untapped lands. Attack, untap my my lands, go. Faeries is designed to operate on the opponents turn, so SoFF seems almost-tailor made for Faeries. SoFF lets you use your mana more aggressively on your turn while still having mana to play your powerful instant-speed spells on the opponents turn. Having access to even a few extra mana than the opponent each turn is all it takes to quickly take over a game, especially when you play such efficient and powerful cards. When you consider SoFF pairing up with Cryptic Command
and Mistbind Clique
it seems downright broken. The other way that the untap ability shines is that it frees up mana to move your SoFF after you attack onto an untapped blocker. Historically, some of the best uses for equipment is to use it aggressively and then move it onto an untapped creature for the opponents turn. SoFF is almost designed for this, as untapping your lands gives you plenty of extra mana to make the reequip happen. It is very important when playing a deck like Faeries, one that so often needs to be aggressive and defensive at the same time in order to win a close race.
I've kind of assumed it as a fact throughout my discussion, but Sword of Feast and Famine
also gives +2/+2 to the equipped creature. Faeries is an aggro-control fish deck, meaning while it is full of counters and control cards, it truly is an aggressive deck. It cannot afford to wait forever and win off of its powerful cards, because besides Cryptic Command
, and even that is a stretch, no card is truly backbreakingly powerful and game ending. Other decks play cards like that, so Faeries needs to kill the opponent quickly. SoFF is perfect in this role because it turns any creature into a sizable threat. A few hits with a creature carrying SoFF will take a big chunk out of the opponent life total. Even more importantly, +2/+2 makes Faeries creatures formidable in combat. One of the biggest problems facing Faeries is the fact that its creatures tend to be much smaller than opponents creatures, making them poor in combat. Sure, they have evasion and can race in that way, but they make poor blockers. SoFF will make a Spellstutter Sprite
or Faerie Rogue token into a real body, and it has a similarly powerful effect on every other creature. This means SoFF functions as yet an additional source of card advantage.
Finally, as though it needed more abilities, SoFF gives protection from green and protection from black to the equipped creature. These are not huge benefits of SoFF, but they are certainly important and in a certain metagame could easily be the factor that turns SoFF from lackluster to essential. There are not many Black creatures in Extended, and the most popular one may actually be Bitterblossom
Tokens. In the Faerie mirror, this means your creatures can actually fight through a Bitterblossom
. This not only means your SoFF will trigger, but it means you are much better equipped to win a race against Bitterblossom
. This benefit is not to be taken lightly, because as seasoned Faerie players know, edges in the mirror are important but almost impossible to come by.The other place protection from black shines is against targeted removal. Maelstrom Pulse
, and Go for the Throat
are all poor against SoFF.
SoFF also bestows protection from green to the equipped creature, and this can be very relevant. Green removal is not the main reason; although it may exist, I have yet to play against Wing Puncture
in Extended (although I have seen Plummet). What IS in extended is a plethora of green creatures. Vengevine
is the biggest culprit, and it has given me more problems as a Faeries player than almost any other creature. SoFF is a great solution to this tough problem because it allows you to block Vengevine
indefinitely. There of course are other places protection from green and black will be relevant, but those are the ones where SoFF really sticks out in my mind.
There is one last cool synergy Faeries has with Sword of Feast and Famine
, and that is in the sideboard. Vampire Nighthawk
has become almost universal in Faeries sideboards and most successful lists are running it. Vampire Nighthawk
is powerful, but it is certainly beatable. When it is wearing a SoFF, however, it is much more formidable and almost impossible to race. I can all but guarantee Masayasu won at least one game with a Vampire Nighthawk
equipped with SoFF. The presence of SoFF in the deck turns Vampire Nighthawk
from another role-playing sideboard card into a plan of its own.
One of the biggest costs of running Sword of Feast and Famine
is simply what it must replace. Slots in decks are extremely valuable, and space tends to be very tight, especially in Extended and even more so in a tribal deck like Faeries. The usual suspects tend to always be present, and the flexible space is filled up with removal and perhaps planeswalkers. Masayasu took second in his PTQ, but it was won by Jarvis Yu, who too was playing Faeries.
Both lists are functionally very similar. Where they differ is that Jarvis has two extra planeswalkers and Masayasu has two Sword of Feast and Famine
. They both serve as sources of card advantage but they do so in very different ways. Both Jace are very controlling cards. They work best when protected by counters and removal so the opponent cannot interact with them. Jace provides a steady stream of cards. Sword of Feast and Famine
is aggressive and provides card advantage by draining the opponents resources while providing some more tangible benefits to you. Jarvis is a friend of mine, and according to him, he would play Sword of Feast and Famine
were he to PTQ again with Faeries. My problem with Jace Beleren
and Jace, the Mind Sculptor
is that they are weak to creatures. An early creature rush will render these planewalkers rather weak. Faeries is already a deck that is weak to early creatures, and planeswalkers do not help the problem. Sword of Feast and Famine
, on the other hand, helps fight against creature while being very synergistic with the deck. If Faeries falls behind against aggro it often has a difficult time catching up. Sword of Feast and Famine
helps here in a few ways. The biggest is the pure tempo that it provides. Producing extra mana is almost like a Time Walk
, as it lets you play more spells in a turn than you normally could. This lets you catch up with the already developed opponent and get back in the game. SoFF also provides the extra damage that is critical in winning a race. It also lets your creatures fight against aggressive creatures profitably. Planeswalkers work well in Faeries and will continue to do so, but I think Sword of Feast and Famine
is head and shoulders above them.
When looking at all of the benefits, Sword of Feast and Famine
is the perfect card for Faeries. The deck functions by fighting a war of attrition while seeking to gain card advantage wherever and whenever it can. Faeries more importantly engages in a war of tempo in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the opponent at all times. SoFF serves beautifully in both of these roles because it generates both card advantage and tempo. Faeries is an aggressive deck that wins with its small, evasive creatures. SoFF turns each one of these creatures into a very real, game winning threat. It also makes each creature formidable in combat against other creatures. In addition to all of this, SoFF bestows protection form green and black, both of which are relevant in extended and help solve some very specific and important problems Faeries faces. SoFF interacts very well with the Faeries deck as a hole and has many synergies and benefits with almost every card. For all of these reasons, I think Sword of Feast and Famine
will become a staple in Faeries in the future, and I recommend playing with it sooner rather than later. Writing this makes me want to go play with Faeries with SoFF on MODO because its such a powerful and fun card. I am sure to write more about Sword of Feast and Famine
in the future, but its applications in extended Faeries are what excite me the most at the moment.
Having some Magic free time has allowed me to play some other formats, and my favorite of these is Legacy. I don't often get to play Legacy in paper, but there is always the option of Magic Online. The format is still in its fledgling stages there, but, with the release of Masters Edition 4, it is starting to rapidly gain in popularity.
My favorite deck in Legacy is Counterbalance
. I played that to a top 8 finish in the Legacy Championships this year at GenCon, and I enjoy playing it whenever I can. There are not many large Legacy events on MTGO, but today a rare Legacy Premier event fired. I played my version of Counterbalance
to a top 8 finish. I was prepared to win the whole thing, but I exited in the quarterfinals in an extremely close 3 games against Rb goblins.
Here is my current list:
Give it a try, you won't be dissapointed!
I hope you all learned something from this. Please let me know in the forums what you want me to write about so my next article will be even better.
Thanks and have a good week,