Welcome to another installment in the r/spikes tournament report series. Barrett Goss comes at you with a two-fer; a report about how his deck of choice fared at a GPT in Philadelphia and then at a PTQ in Delaware the next day. Hang on a second—didn’t Max Perlmutter play those same two events? Wonder if they know each other… it’s a small world in r/spikes! Enjoy the report!
Hi, all. My name’s Barrett Goss and I’ve played various competitive card games for the past decade. I got back into Magic with Zendikar and have played Modern since its inception. However, for a long while, this great format had a distinct lack of my favorite deck, thanks to the banning of one particular card: Bitterblossom. The DCI Banned & Restricted List announcement in February 2014 solidified the Modern format as my favorite, allowing me to quit playing with the pretenders and play the best deck in the metagame (no bias).
I spent this weekend doing what any self-respecting Modern player with a three-day holiday weekend would do: I grinded 18+ hours of Magic between two events and 16 rounds! As a Philadelphia resident, I’m lucky enough to be within driving distance of a good amount of events, so between myself and the rest of the Modern crowd in the area, we decided to make both the hour-long drive to Six Feet Under Games in New Holland on Saturday for a GPT/IQ event, then turn around and do a PTQ in Wilmington, Delaware, the next day. For this article, I’ll do a general overview of my matches on Saturday, and a more detailed breakdown for the PTQ.
While I have the option of what are considered tier one decks in the format, I’m a firm believer that you’ll do better with a deck you know inside and out. For the GPT, I knew exactly what I wanted to sleeve up in a field that I expected to be primarily mid-range and control strategies:
Faeries – Barrett Goss
As an archetype, Faeries rides a fine line between aggro, tempo, and control, and one of the things that I enjoy the most about it is that a skilled pilot can both tune and play it to suit any metagame. With an inherently unfair matchup for the control decks in the format, you can tune the deck against what you need help with. This GPT marked a change from my normal routine of “rip all the things from your hand on turn one.” At both GP Richmond and GP Minneapolis, I was an advocate of five main-decked one-mana discard spells split between Thoughtseize and [/card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card], but I’ve been wanting to test Liliana of the Veil. As a powerhouse in Modern with both Jund and Rock decks, she theoretically has always seemed to answer the problems that Faeries struggled with. Given the local meta, it seemed like a perfect time to test her out!
A pairing in round one against a local Tron player went south immediately with a quick 0-2 loss, and while mana problems were the name of the game, I immediately saw a different problem. Both games I saw Inquisitions, and while they were able to pull a card, without Thoughtseize I was unable to rip any of his action and died under a pile of wurms and flying spaghetti monsters.
Over the next three rounds, I saw a U/G Infect deck, a Martyr Proc deck, and a copy of Craig Wescoe’s recent W/B Midrange deck. All three of these matches highlighted the power of Faeries in the format. The tools the deck works with attack your opponents from multiple angles. While many decks in the format are fine working around counterspells or discard or tempo, very few are equipped with the tools to deal with all three at once. A large reason why Faeries can do this is due to both Spellstutter Sprite and Mistbind Clique, both of which are borderline unplayable without Bitterblossom, but become two of the best tempo spells in the format with it.
Unlike with Tron, these three matches didn’t mind not having Thoughtseize, as these decks have much lower curves and Inquisition can hit whatever I want. Traditionally, I’ve always felt that Faeries doesn’t like decks that can profitably run Lingering Souls; it’s not fun to counter since it is negative card advantage, and it costs you four creatures and four life to deal with. However, the addition of Liliana of the Veil was actually a huge boon in all three of these matches, and is the reason why I won all three. In the Infect matchup, she forced a sac on the last infect creature my opponent had. Against Martyr Proc, she whittled down their hand while Mistbinds and Creeping Tar Pits swung through his defenses. And against B/W midrange, she lets you have a consistent way to keep them on no resources—something Thoughtseize can never do.
Entering the top eight, I got paired against a local UW Control player who had ended my run at a GPT the week before in the top four. I was still a bit mad about that, as UWx Control variants are widely considered a bye for Faeries. You do everything they want to do, but do it better. You run more counters than they do, play the end step better than they do, and if you get to resolve a turn-two Bitterblossom, they may as well concede. The prior week I had been lax and had kept soft hands, not having the lands or counters I needed to beat the deck. This week, I played it correctly and cruised to an easy 2-0.
The semifinals saw a rematch with the B/W midrange player, and the same story played out as in our Swiss matchup: Liliana of the Veil backed up by Bitterblossom is just something the grindy decks of the format don’t like. A quick 2-0 there sent me to the finals.
The finals match was against the same Tron player I had met for my round one loss. While I was on the draw, I managed to get down excellent early game pressure off the back of multiple counterspells, and a combination of Cryptic Command and Mistbind Clique ended the game. Game two saw him mulligan to five and I led off with a turn-one Inquisition into a turn-two Bitterblossom into a turn-three Liliana. Not something a five-card hand from Tron can deal with well.
The day ended well, and I felt that the addition of Liliana was important: she filled a space I had been missing in the deck and did it all in one convenient package. I felt comfortable with sleeving the deck up again for the PTQ the next day, but overall, there were four changes among the 75. The first, and most important in my mind, was the swap of Thoughtseize back into the deck over the Inquisition of Kozileks. While not losing life from my discard spells is nice, Thoughtseize is a much better card against Tron, Pod, and Control matchups. It would mean I would be slightly softer to Affinity and Zoo, but I felt that it was worth it.
The second change came as we sat into the event room at the PTQ, when a friend who had been roaming the venue remarked on how many Pod players he had seen around the hall. In response, I dropped one Negate from the board and added in a third Sower of Temptation. It’s just a very strong card in the matchup, only being removed by Slaughter Pact, Path to Exile, and Murderous Redcap. When you can force your opponent’s resources to work for you, the fight becomes much easier. With those changes, I felt confident going into the tournament.
Faeries 2.0 – Barrett Goss
Now for the Play-by-Play
Round 1 – Jund
I consider Rock and Jund variants to be a very good measuring stick for Modern: they’re both incredibly consistent decks that require you to have multiple angles of attack and to be able to win through both hand disruption and efficient removal—things all the best decks can either ignore or fight through. I lead off the game with an early Thoughtseize, staring down a pair of Bobs (Dark Confidant), Tarmogoyf, an Abrupt Decay, and a Maelstrom Pulse. I pulled a Bob, then followed up his turn-two Goyf with an immediate Doom Blade. His Bob the following turn resolved, but I managed to get out a Mistbind Clique and start beating. He chose to develop his board with a Courser of Kruphix instead of fight over the Mistbind, and then added a Scavenging Ooze to his field presence. Over the next few turns, he added two more Tarmogoyfs while Mistbind and Creeping Tar Pit pinged at him and Cryptic Command kept his removal in check. Finally, he tried to slam down the Maelstrom Pulse, and a prompt Cryptic to tap his team and counter it allowed me to attack for exactly lethal.
Game two was much less eventful, seeing a turn-two Bitterblossom meet no resistance. While he eventually cleared it with an Engineered Explosives, he was unable to deal with the tokens already on the field coupled with not being able to kill Creeping Tar Pit.
Round 2 – UWR Control
I sat down to this match not knowing what my opponent was on, and keeping a hand with lands, Bitterblossom, Vendilion Clique, and Spellstutter Sprite. I led with an Island and when he led with a tapped Celestial Colonnade, the game was basically over. Unfortunately for UWR Control, in game one, they really have no way to deal with either Bitterblossom or the tokens efficiently outside of Electrolyze, and landing it turn two is almost assuredly a victory.
Post board, I was able to add in both a pair of counterspells as well as Spreading Seas, which is a very useful catch-all in the matchup. It can keep a control player off of white or red mana in a pinch, but more often than not it is a two-mana cantrip that will negate a Colonnade, which can’t be overestimated. Swords in general are bad in the matchup, as are Mistbind Cliques due to UWR’s wealth of removal.
Game two saw my opponent mulligan to six, and a turn-one Thoughtseize revealed a hand of three lands, Dispel, and Celestial Purge. I looked at the Bitterblossom in my hand and felt momentarily guilty, but pulled the Purge anyway. He really had no way back into the game and was resigned to firing off Path to Exiles on my tokens.
Round 3 – RG Tron
Game one saw my opponent do what makes every Modern player rage on the inside: assembled Tron by turn 4, with plenty of gas in hand. Unfortunately, a hand full of Spellstutter Sprites and Dismembers doesn’t do much against a Karn Liberated or a Wurmcoil Engine. Whoops. Into the board we go, adding in a pair of Spreading Seas, three Sower of Temptations, and Negate. Sower is a really nice piece of tech in this matchup, letting you take not only Wurmcoil Engines, but also Emrakul, the Aeons Torn!
A mulligan to five by my opponent didn’t help him, and it was met by a turn-three sword into a turn-four swing on a Mutavault. I showed him the pair of hard counters in hand and he quickly conceded, knowing that he wouldn’t get to play anything else before the manland got there.
Game three saw a mull to six on my side, but this match was (once again) ruled by Liliana of the Veil. An early Spell Snare on his Sylvan Scrying allowed enough time for Liliana to come down and wreck his hand. I actually made a misplay at one point, ultimating Liliana with four lands and a Sower in hand with my opponent having a field of three non-assembled Tron lands, two Grove of the Burnwillows, a Cavern of Souls, and a Wurmcoil out. Greedily, I thought I could split the piles for my opponent so that he would keep the two Urza lands and the Wurmcoil, hoping to topdeck the third piece. Instead ,he sacked that pile, getting two Wurm tokens. Luckily, Sower took the lifelink token and proceeded to start swinging, while Tectonic Edge took out the Cavern. My opponent lost with a grip full of Wurms and Karns, unable to get enough mana out thanks to the half-Armageddon.
Round 4 – Scapeshift
Game one started off well with a hand of three lands, two removal spells, Bitterblossom, and Mistbind Clique. Unfortunately, my opponent went turn-one Stomping Ground into Search for Tomorrow. In game one, there is next to nothing my removal spells hit against Scapeshift, so I essentially had a mulligan to five. Oops. The board state quickly moved in my favor, thanks to Bitterblossom and a decent run of manlands. Spellstutter Sprite was the only counter I drew in the entire game, and it was used to stop the first Scapeshift. A Vendilion Clique got rid of a second one, but we both knew I was dead if he saw a third one, so I poured on the gas. Unfortunately, we got into a board state where he made a very nice play with a Lightning Bolt and a pair of Remands in hand to keep from dying to my manlands, and at two life, he pulled a Scapeshift off the top to win the game.
Game two saw a mulligan to six where I again got to keep a hand with lands, Bitterblossom, and a Mistbind Clique. You really can’t get much better on a mulligan, and my opponent was also on six (that he seemed a bit begrudging in keeping), so I slammed the turn-two Bitterblossom. Unfortunately, it turned out my opponent kept a hand of four lands and double Obstinate Baloth, then drew into another Baloth. Meanwhile, I became stuck on three lands with a hand that became double Mistbind Clique and triple Cryptic Command. I eventually drew the fourth lands, but by that point my opponent had around 10 lands out and a hand full of spells, and it was too late to come back.
Round 5 – RG Tron
After winning game one, in game two we both saw good openers, with him assembling turn-four Tron and myself getting to drop a Bitterblossom early. While I countered his early Karn and Wurmcoil Engine, I didn’t get much pressure throughout the game and my opponent played exceedingly well with the order he sequenced his plays. He wound up getting an Oblivion Stone to wipe my board, then several turns later had Eye of Ugin with 13 mana, so I scooped ’em up and went to game three. This loss kind of stung since I had a Sower of Temptation in hand, but unfortunately, I was one permanent short of being able to survive the Emrakul and steal it the following turn. The next card also happened to be a Cryptic, which would have won me the game.
In game three, both my seven- and six-card hands had only one land, so the game started with five cards for me. I had a Bitterblossom and a Liliana, but no black mana. I threw out a Sword of Feast and Famine since my opponent had an exceedingly slow start (double Grove of the Burnwillows) with the backup plan of Mutavault beatdowns. I drew a River of Tears and played Bitterblossom, which he promptly Nature’s Claimed. Next turn, I drew, ran out the Mutavault, and in response to the sword equip he showed the one-of Dismember from the board. At this point he had six lands out, and when he played the Wurmcoil next turn I just conceded, as I can’t fight back through that.
Round 6 – UR Vial Faeries
Game one, I led off with a Thoughtseize and saw a hand of three lands, an Aether Vial, a Spellstutter Sprite, and a Mistbind Clique. I took the Vial immediately. While I had never played the matchup before this, I knew that his deck was basically just a mashup of UR Faeries and Splinter Twin, removing Delver of Secrets and tempo cards from traditional UR Faerie lists to add in Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Vial, and Pestermite. Unfortunately for him, Bitterblossom is a much better card than most of his deck, and he didn’t have a way to deal with the flood of faerie tokens. He had to be proactive with his mana while I could play draw-go and counter or kill everything he played. He eventually conceded when he was topdecking and I showed two Cryptics in hand.
Game two, he got the early Vial out, but unfortunately for him, he had a slow hand. He attempted to drop a Pestermite early, which was promptly killed. Mistbind Clique got flashed in on both sides, but I knew his last remaining card in hand was a Kiki-Jiki, so I promptly killed his Mistbind and controled the board state for the rest of the game, using Spellstutters and Dismembers.
This matchup isn’t one I would expect to see often, but I can see it getting a lot of free wins from decks that aren’t equipped to deal with the angles it plays from. At heart it’s another Twin deck, but it has some pretty neat synergies once you add more Faeries to it.
Round 7 – UWR Control
Game one wasn’t much of a game for my opponent, unfortunately. I had the dream opener of Thoughtseize into Bitterblossom into Liliana. He recognized on turn one what my deck was and immediately started to throw burn at my face, but he could never drop me below eight life. Eventually Liliana ultimated and we moved on.
Game two was nearly an exact reversal of game one in terms of pressure. I stumbled early on lands and he ramped up, and after I tapped out to Mana Leak a Restoration Angel, he slammed a Keranos. At this point I knew I couldn’t win, as I had no real outs to him and was too far behind to race it.
Game three played out slower than the previous two, but I eventually landed a Liliana and started ticking up. I kept a Dismember in hand for the Celestial Colonnade he had, and killed the manland in response to activation, protecting Liliana. From there on out, Liliana and Creeping Tar Pit kept his options limited, and it was a slow but sure grind to a win.
Round 8 – Melira Pod
If I remember correctly, my opponent and I each knew what the other was on, as we had a mutual friend who we had both spoken to throughout the day. We knew top eight was basically locked out barring some absurd draws, but we played it out for prizes and standing.
Game one was a decent keep, but I didn’t have a discard spell or a Bitterblossom. He got an early start with turn-one Birds (that I Dismembered), followed by turn-two Wall of Roots into turn-three Kitchen Finks. I went on the backup plan of Vendilion Clique plus Sword, and we each started grinding one another out. Eventually I got him down to three life with a live Pod, but he had no creatures and Creeping Tar Pit sealed the deal.
Game two was, unfortunately for him, a slaughter. I ripped his hand early and saw double Kitchen Finks as the only threats, in addition to a Scavenging Ooze on the board. He dropped both Finks and I dropped a Vendilion Clique and a Snapcaster Mage. After eating some damage from the Ooze, I was at 10 life against his board of persisted Finks and an Ooze. Luckily, Sower of Temptation is a house in this matchup. I proceeded to draw back-to-back Mistbind Cliques with the Sower still out, and the free advantage quickly sealed the deal.
At the End of the Day
The end of the day saw me finish eleventh, about a half-percentage point out of top eight on breakers. Overall, the day felt like it went well. Scapeshift is a matchup that Faeries should generally beat, but variance happens and the odds of drawing five of your six four-mana spells when you are stuck on three lands is exceedingly low. Tron once again felt like an annoying matchup that is heavily draw-dependent for each side. Otherwise, every matchup for the day was one where I felt firmly in control.
The addition of Liliana gave me much longer reach than I traditionally would’ve had, and I can safely say I wouldn’t have done nearly as well on the weekend if I didn’t have copies in the deck. As of now, I don’t think it is correct to increase the number of Lilianas, but it is a possibility moving forward. The sideboard performed well throughout the weekend, with the only card not seeing play being the pair of Hurkyl’s Recall. It would have been nice to have known I wouldn’t need them, but it’s a card that pads the Affinity matchup so hard that I wouldn’t enter a major tournament without it. If you pick up the deck in your local meta, be sure to tune for what is around you. Anything from a fourth Spell Snare to Hibernations to Wurmcoil Engine can be viable, depending on the field.
Moving forward, I’m going to look into more ways to put the Tron matchup away earlier, since it is growing in popularity again. Other than that, I feel confident against every deck in the meta, and if you have the time to put in with this deck, you can expect great results with it. The maindeck is incredibly strong against the field right now, and while you are missing tools to deal with enchantments or artifacts easily, your board can give you a good matchup against any deck if you are properly prepared. GP Boston is only two weeks away, and I look forward to showing what Faeries can do in Modern there.
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