Playing Against Faeries, the Pauper's Queen

Magic: the Gathering

Competitive

Playing Against Faeries, the Pauper's Queen

If Faeries is Pauper's best deck, what strategies can we use to exploit its weaknesses, and which decks best represent the means to exploit them?

By Romeu, 10/04/21, translated by Romeu, with help from our readers

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In my last article on Pauper, I wrote about how decks like Faeries will always be the best deck of the format and what this means for Pauper, explaining how Turbo Xerox decks tend to be more efficient in Magic: The Gathering because of their composition that allows greater access to the necessary cards, when needed, also bringing greater flexibility between splits and several other points that make Faeries the best deck when the Metagame is balanced, as well as explaining how the fact that there is a “best deck” does not necessarily mean a bad, unhealthy or even broken format.

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But if Faeries is the best deck, and that doesn't make it the oppressive deck, there must be ways to get a positive matchup against it, otherwise it would be polarizing the format, right? Well, technically yes, Faeries have matchups where it is favored and others where the deck is unfavored against. However, it's important to emphasize again that Magic is a game of variance and resources, and what decks like Faeries seek to achieve is the ability to mitigate variance over the course of games by playing Cantrips and other means of gaining access to more cards for as cheap as possible, virtually seeing more cards as the game progresses. Because of this, even a deck fully prepared to get a positive matchup against Faeries or even devour it completely can have matches where Faeries wins because the variance was more punitive to the other player. However, there are still matchups that can be a nightmare for Turbo Xerox decks, and in this article we'll see how these matches can be reflected in Pauper's context, as well as looking at other ways to defeat the format's queen, and despite Turbo Xerox being commonly best deck of competitive formats, they have some natural weaknesses recurring in most of their compositions, but not all of them are found in Faeries in the same proportion, or that we lack some elements to make it possible to perform them within the format, as, for example, the absence of

taxing

effects, as other formats does with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, or the means to create locks against them, as with Chalice of the Void. However, there are other options at Pauper, and they even have a history of being relatively useful against Faeries and other Tempo decks, and I'll be categorizing them based on how these strategies might work, as well as mentioning a few points that work particularly well against Faeries, rather than in the general context of Turbo Xerox decks.

Play Over Them

One of Turbo Xerox's weaknesses includes not being able to respond to every threat that the opponent throws at them, essentially because each of the cards that come into play will most likely be a huge threat that demands an immediate answer, and where literally any of them that stays in play can win the match on its own. Examples of decks like this in other formats are often archetypes like Eldrazi Tron in Modern or Cloudpost in Legacy, where literally any threat that remains in play will be a problem for the deck because they are high-impact permanents and where literally any of them that remains in play will require the opponent to search for an answer as soon as possible or possibly lose the game in a few turns.
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In the current Pauper, one of the main archetypes that can play multiple impactful threats, and where any that remain in play will be a problem is Affinity, even with Sojourner’s Companion gone. Affinity is an extremely well-structured deck so that all your permanents have a high impact on the board and are threats that need to be answered in a few turns or will take the game on their own, especially the trio of creatures Myr Enforcer, Gearseeker Serpent and Atog, which also forces the opponent to always watch out for the possibility of interactions with Fling or with multiple copies of Disciple of The Vault One of the main advantages of Affinity today also lies in its resilience in keeping its resources flowing and extending the game even in the worst of situations, with Deadly Dispute and Thoughtcast quickly replenishing the archetype's hand while Makeshift Munitions adds not only a recurrent removal but another means of interacting with Disciple of the Vault that can close the game in a few activations.

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Cascade decks can also play “above” Faeries by using a multitude of 2-for-1 effects on high-impact creatures such as Annoyed Altisaur and Boarding Party, but also on their lower-cost drops such as Owlbear and Crimson Fleet Commodore, evasive threats that trade favorably with a significant portion of the opponent's deck, essentially symbolizing that any creature left in play will be an issue. Another important point of this strategy is that, with a threat curve that starts at cost 4 and goes up to cost 7, Jund Cascade can easily evade Spellstutter Sprite, the card that constantly offers the highest Tempo boost that Faeries possess and which, as I mentioned in the previous article, functions as the pillar of the archetype. And Cascade's cards also favors a second point that is very relevant to having an advantage against these archetypes.

Outvalue Them

Although Tempo decks have the advantage of having access to more cards as the game progresses due to cantrips and top manipulation, these effects are still 1-for-1 trades in the player's hand and don't usually offer card advantage effects, which technically means there will be a downside if you have to constantly exchange resources with your opponent as their hand can go empty faster, and therefore you can make an attrition plan that is far more effective and force more unfavorable trades, potentially depleting the opponent's resources while keeping yours. Usually, to mitigate this problem, lists resort to ways to obtain some card advantage during the game. Examples of this are the now banned Dreadhorde Arcanist in the Legacy's Izzet Delver, Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan's Command in the former Grixis Shadow, and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer currently. In Faeries, the card advantage engines are Ninja of the Deep Hours and Thorn of the Black Rose, which offer a recurring draw under the right conditions, but the rest of the deck is focused on generate 1-for-1 exchanges. Thus, a deck like Jund Cascade, where all cards generate 2-for-1 effects and where Cascade's own mechanics usually ensure that at least one of the effects you get when you cast the spell will resolve (unless the opponent runs Lose Focus, something that hasn't been common in recent weeks), and can double quickly when you play cards like Reaping the Graves or Pulse of Murasa.
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One deck that emerged last week and is a good example of a list whose engine value might be too high for Faeries to handle is Rakdos Metalcraft, created by AdeptoTerra, which takes advantage of a series of interactions: Ichor Wellspring with Deadly Dispute is essentially an Ancestral Recall, Ardent Elementalist with Reaping the Graves can generate many 2-for-1 or greater effects, and the interaction of Cleansing Wildfire and Geomancer's Gambit with the Modern Horizons II artifact duals is already known as one of the format's current pillars. Add that to a very efficient clock between Boarding Party and Bleak Coven Vampires and you have the right mix to get more value than Faeries for long enough to win the game.
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Another deck that can accomplish this same strategy is Orzhov Pestilence, especially the more interactive versions that runs more threats, mainly because Pestilence is an absurd card against Faeries, and added to the Kor Skyfisher package with Omen of the Dead and a plethora of powerful ETB effects, plus a difficult-to-respond threat with Guardian of the Guildpact, create the necessary elements to control the game, accumulate more value than the opponent and establish pressure.

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Play Under Them

Another way to beat Tempo decks is to try to take advantage of the initial setup that the archetype usually performs with its cantrips or its creatures to play faster and establish a pressure on the game even in the first turns, creating difficulties for the player to deal with everything the opponent has played because 1-for-1 exchanges are not enough to keep up with the established pacing.
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I used to mention Stompy in this category, but Snuff Out is a devastating card against Stompy, and the archetype is also in a bad position in the format these days because Affinity is pretty much a better aggressive deck, and Stompy doesn't have the necessary and consistent means of dealing with larger creatures, plus it can't keep up with the archetype's card advantage package, However, there is a relevant point that I think it is necessary to emphasize: although I consider it a “better Aggro” than Stompy and the deck actually sets the format clock in many matches, I cannot particularly fit Affinity in this category because the archetype it no longer works under the premise of making multiple creatures quickly, and today it works much better at grinding games and getting inevitability with its spells and creatures rather than trying to race against unprepared opponents, and its first turns usually involve doing some setup instead of throwing one threat after another.
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Instead, there are two decks that I believe fit better in this “playing under” category against Faeries these days. One of them, Elves, manages to establish the pressure due to the number of threats it makes in a few turns. One mana dork on turn 1 will usually mean two more creatures on turn 2, which can mean a multitude of others on later turns, and the opponent's removals need to be targeted at the most important threats, such as Priest of Titania, Timberwatch Elf, Wellwisher or Lys Alana Huntmaster as they are the cards that open gaps for the most explosive plays or delay the opponent's game plan for enough time. Elves also can quickly replenish their hand with cards Faeries need to respond to, such as Lead the Stampede and Distant Melody, plus the need to also deal with Spidersilk Armor which, if it hits the battlefield, makes the game even more complicated. So, there are too many cards that Faeries need to watch while accelerating their game plan, while even some of their main threats are stopped by the blockers on the ground.
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In particular, goldfishing decks (decks that don't usually interact with the opponent and focus too much on their game plan) are

awful

against Tempo decks, especially Faeries, where commonly Spellstutter Sprite can respond to most spells, but I'm giving Bogles an exception space for its results in the last few weeks, although I believe this has much more to do with how the rest of the Metagame is shaping up. Bogles have an advantage that their threats are hard to kill without the right preparation, which commonly involves Chainer's Edict, a bad card against various of the most played archetypes today, and therefore can serve as a good Meta Call, especially in games where Faeries' initial plays involve tapped lands and/or the non-use of Spellstutter Sprite, as well as a very conscious use of the player's resources, as the archetype usually has no means of replenishing its resources during the match, and the odds aren't good against Faeries.

Play Makeshift Munitions

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One of the greatest weaknesses that some Tempo decks have is a very low threat density and, even if one of them could win the game on its own, a very disruptive list with a higher number of disruptions and removals could be a bad matchup because, if one of your threats was killed, you would have a hard time finding another and making sure it wasn't removed. One example that suffers from this problem is Dimir Delver, and the main reason the archetype is being overshadowed today by the Faeries versions is that not only is Delver of Secrets easily resolved these days, it can't keep up with the density of interactions and removals used by the other decks since this is the main means of interaction for Pauper. Faeries, however, manage to mitigate this “damage” in two ways: most of their creatures already have an immediate impact when they come into play, which means they already extract some value for their controller, and except for Ninja of the Deep Hours and Gurmag Angler, most of the creatures in the deck aren't very impactful as threats, which technically devalues ​​the opponent's targeted removals a lot, as a Lightning Bolt in a Faerie Seer in the middle of a match is probably less attractive than it would be in a higher-impact threat or one that sets a higher clock rate. Because of this, it's common for the best removals against Faeries to be those that offer at least a 2-for-1.
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These cards allow the player to mitigate the 2-for-1 effect that Faeries creatures tend to create when dealing with more than one threat with just one card, but they have a very relevant weakness in the current Pauper scenario: They are commonly cards bad against the other archetypes and, therefore, they are not usually good maindeck options, not even when they have an added value like Cycling for Suffocating Fumes or when they are more comprehensive as a removal like Fiery Cannonade. Unless you're playing another deck that can sculpt it hand easily (which will usually imply you're playing Faeries) and can set the stage for these cards to be effective enough at the right time, often these cards tend to be bad topdecks.
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Boros Bully is an example of where these options can be interesting because you have the means to “rotate” your hand with cards like Faithless Looting, essentially filtering out your bad draws. Also, Boros Bully has always been a good Faeries predator because of how its threats are naturally good at dealing with an army of flying creatures, so it can leave its removals to important threats while the available Flashback spells creates several 2-for-1 situations, but loses its effectiveness as the amount of Suffocating Fumes and Echoing Decay or Echoing Truth increases, in addition to being poorly positioned against other major competitors, such as Jund Cascade, Affinity and Bogles. However, outside punctual situations or specific lists, many of the Faeries-directed removals that we could use in the format are too conditional to want many copies of them, especially if they don't work favorably within other matchups or as individual cards. However, since before Modern Horizons II, a card has gained space and relevance in the format because of its interactions and, in recent weeks, it has appeared in more lists and in more archetypes among the lists that obtained good results in competitive events because it is an extremely interactive engine against Faeries that also interacts incredibly well with certain strategies:

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Makeshift Munitions, in the right decks, is a machine gun against Faeries that has no limitations on its usefulness outside this context, and can even serve as recurring damage when needed, while interacting incredibly well with decks that seeks to abuse its effect, like Affinity with Disciple of the Vault, or Moggwarts where it serves as part of the combo engine. This particular card has a number of advantages over Faeries: It's a recurring effect, it's a non-creature permanent (hence harder to interact with outside of counterspells or cards like Echoing Truth), and it permanently cripples any removal they might use when responding by sacrificing the spell's target to speed up the clock or to deal damage to an opposing creature, that's all in addition to having some absurd interactions with inclusions like Ichor Wellspring and other triggered effects.
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Despite everything I mentioned in this article, the fact that we are seeing more and more lists playing Makeshift Munitions and doing good results proves how to have a recurring "machine gun" against Faeries that also serves as engine and wincondition seems to be the right way to deal with small creatures without dedicating dead slots to it. So, I believe that currently, the best way to deal with Faeries involves using this card to your advantage, as they do with cards like Chalice of the Void in other formats.

Play the Best Deck

Or, of course, you can just choose to play the best deck in the format, which has a well-balanced match against itself.
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There is a popular saying that while Dimir Faeries is the best deck against Pauper's Metagame, Izzet Faeries is the best version at the mirror match for using cards like Pyroblast and more cost-effective removals like Lightning Bolt and Skred, technically getting more cards that respond well to the opponent's strategy and threats. In reality, Faeries mirrors is often a laborious match for both players, and one that is commonly defined by who uses their resources better and who manages to keep the best threats, or the highest number of threats on the board. The definition of beatdown in the match is constantly changed according to how both players draw cards and carve their hands, and whoever gets the best answers is usually the winner. On the Izzet side, we have responsible use of cards like Pyroblast in the sideboard and better use of mana resources with cheaper removals, Lightning Bolt and Skred, plus some important cards in flexible slots like Fire // Ice, and other options that can go into the sideboard like Stormbound Geist and Fiery Cannonade. On the Dimir side, we have a tough to respond threat with Gurmag Angler, a card advantage feature that isn't countered by Pyroblasts with Thorn of the Black Rose (which is important since Izzet commonly uses Crimson Fleet Commodore to obtain the Monarch, which can be responded to with Hydroblast), in addition to accessing important disruptive effects such as Duress and Okiba Gang-Shinobi and, finally, the use of a maindeck sweeper with Suffocating Fumes. So, the choice between Dimir or Izzet is not simple and may depend a lot on the surroundings of the rest of the format or how much you really want to put into this particular matchup, but keep in mind that both versions are consistently good versus good part of the metagame, each with its advantages or disadvantages.

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What I'd avoid against Faeries

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Non-Bogles goldfishing decks for the reasons already mentioned: Faeries and Tempo decks, in general, are excellent at dealing with decks that don't play the interactive game because they are

the deck that forces the interactive game

. It doesn't mean you won't beat Faeries with your Burn, and it's even a very valid option for the free wins you can get by playing "under" Faeries with bad hands or against other decks that don't have the means to reset the clock imposed by you, but many cards it runs are easily answered by cards that are commonly on the lists and without many restrictions, and the inability to replenish these resources later, as Elves or Moggwarts do, added to the number of loopholes to invalidate your threats, where Bogles have an advantage, don't look like a bright spot when looking at this particular match.
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It's completely useless for you to try to respond to everything your opponent does if you don't have an efficient means of winning the game. So “removal.deck” tend to be pretty bad at this point. It's essential that your deck can build the pressure against Faeries while accumulating card advantage as the game progresses because no matter how many extra cards you have, or how many removals you cast, Faeries is an extremely resilient deck and an experienced player will know how to play effectively against a pure Control deck. Pauper has no insta-win threats for Control decks, like a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in addition to other high-impact cards like Shark Typhoon, and therefore betting on winning the game with linear threats Serpentine Curve aren't usually a good choice because of the amount of time you give your opponent to stabilize.

Conclusion

That was my analysis of the ways in which it might be possible to gain some advantage or deal with Faeries in the 2021 Pauper. I emphasize that, although these are valid strategies, they will not always be enough, as, as I mentioned earlier, not only is Faeries a deck that has a package of cantrips that significantly increases its consistency in getting the right answers, such as its flexible slots can be adapted as per the Metagame's needs at that particular time. Therefore, the most efficient way to deal with Faeries also includes understanding when to use a particular strategy that players are likely not prepared for, as an exponential growth of a specific archetype in a week will make more players to use their slots to deal with those decks. On the bright side, there are few archetypes where Faeries have a very positive matchup, just as there are few very negative matchups, so most games tend to be balanced matches where each player's experience can count far beyond statistics or from punctual tactics, my analysis and tips here present just one point where we can look at the options available to try to find the right answer in the right context. Ultimately, Faeries will probably remain the best deck in the format, and I think there is unlikely to be any way to dethrone it right now, but we can craft a variety of competitive archetypes that manage to do well against it while also working well against a specific portion of the Metagame, thus creating a diversified format, where having a better deck does not mean having a polarized metagame. Thanks for reading!
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Romeu

Writer and translator for Cards Realm. Plays virtually Magic: The Gathering competitive formats. Pauper Masters' Organizer.

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