One of times this was true was the period between Alara Reborn becoming legal and GP: Barcelona's advent of Swans. Going into the week before Seattle, I was all set to battle with some variety of 5 Color Bloodbraid deck based on the fact it ran the two best cards in the format: its namesake Bloodbraid Elf and Cryptic Command. It was demolishing the front runner of White-Black Tokens and the only rough matchups I could find for it were Reveillark and White-Green Tokens. However one set of GP results later and I was very unhappy with the deck. In testing, the Swans matchup, while winnable, was much worse then I would have liked it to be. You had Maelstrom Pulse and Cryptic Command, but that was it, and they usually could muster up more Seismic Assaults and Swans of Bryn Argols then you could find answers to unless you had a very aggressive draw. The advent of a combo deck also meant that Black-White Tokens would be on the decline, and this added to the fact that Swans was a serious dog to Faeries led a lot of people, including myself, to the simple conclusion that the tribe was poised for a comeback. Another smaller plus was that Swans had issues with Reveillark, which is probably Fae's best matchup. I was all set to play Fae coming into the weekend and was confident in my choice to the extent that I had even promised my cards for the Bloodbraid deck to Midwest grinder Josh Wludyka.
My travel plans for the event were interesting to say the least. I hadn't even planned on going until I 16-1'ed in games at Great Lakes Regionals a couple weeks before and realized I could just get the flight schedule to work around my school obligations (contrary to the coverage, I am most definitely not a Seattle local). That said, it was a pretty tight fit. The plan was to fly in after class on Thursday, fly out Sunday night at a time that could have been dangerously close to when the event would end if things dragged on, then arrive home in time on Monday to go to class and learn material for the test I was taking that afternoon so I could fly out to Hawaii on Tuesday. I got in as planned and mised a ride off a family friend to Gavin Verhey's house, where I would be staying. Our testing of the decks we were considering simply confirmed what we already knew: Faeries was ahead of Green-White Tokens by a small but relevant margin, Swans had to really fight to win the Fae matchup despite some initial results biased by turn three Seismic Assault and turn 4 Bloodbraid Elf. Swans was pretty far ahead of the Tokens decks as expected. Then Friday, everything got thrown for a loop. Over the course of the day, word began to spread about the newest build of Five-Color Bloodbraid by Pat Chapin. I'll leave the discussion of that deck to those who played it, but simply said Faeries had a very rough time with it. They had Volcanic Fallout and an aggressive start like the red decks on top of Cryptic Command and cascade spells to give them a good long game. You could win if you resolved a Mistbind Clique, but the only time that was easy was turn 4 on the play. I was left in a bind. I wanted to play that deck, but had already given Josh my cards for it, leaving my options at screw a friend over, borrow a full extra copy of the deck, or play Faeries. After spending some time with Gavin trying to gather up twelve Maelstrom Pulses for all the copies of the deck and failing miserably, I just decided to stick with Faeries. Later that night, we tested the White-Black matchup with the new deck and simply found it to be lacking. The removal of sweepers and Magma Sprays from the deck to make room for aggressive creatures led to some serious problems in the matchup compared to the old versions that could almost never lose. Gavin also ended up going back to Faeries and after talking to various people with experience with the deck I ended up on the following list.
Here's some of the reasons behind the cards I feel are worth discussing. These aren't necessarily correct, but they are why I ran the cards I did at the event.
Scion of Oona: A necessary evil. The card is generally mediocre except against decks that also make 1/1 tokens, but those are some of the more problematic matchups and it really shines there. Even then, that's only if it isn't Peppersmoked or Zealous Persecutioned. Vendilion Clique is really good in this slot, but only against decks that you are already good against, and unlike in Kyoto the metagame was not skewed enough in that direction to make the swap. The other real options for the slot are four-drops you don't want a full set of such as Faerie Harbinger, and I hadn't properly tested the splits and whether you could live without another low-drop Faerie going into the event.
Sometimes being only 84% vomit is acceptable.
Sometimes being only 84% vomit is acceptable.
The Removal Suite: Agony Warp is almost always straight up better then Terror right now, but one managed to weasel its way in there due to the fact Figure of Destiny, Plumeveil, Cloudthresher, Wall of Reverence, and Wilt-Leaf Liege all still exist. Peppersmokes were a concession to the mirror match as well as Black-White, where they help your Bitterblossom fights while leaving up counter mana. At their absolute worst against control they could still often cycle. No Remove Souls, Negates, or Soul Manipulations made it in as I felt that they would too often end up as dead cards when my opponent didn't have the right threat for my answer.
Others: The Jace Belerens are really good and give you a long term source of card advantage that lets you play the control very well against the bomby Tokens decks and keep on par against Reveillark and slower Five-Color decks if things don't go perfectly early game. Thoughtseize got cut from the main to keep the number of live draws as high as possible in the aggro and midrange matchups where you need them most, and the one Loxodon Warhammer was just there as it's really good in the matchups you aren't necessarily far ahead in. It isn't the best with Scion, so I can see cutting it, but at the same time it makes otherwise complicated games so easy to smash through and wins games you should usually never win.
Lands: I wanted to cut down on nonbasics due to Anathemancer, so the otherwise mediocre Faerie Conclave left. I cut an Underground River as multiples is usually more awkward then drawing a basic Swamp.
The Board: I did the numbers on how I wanted to board against every deck and made the board based on those. The only deck I was short against was traditional Five-Color or the Planeswalker deck from Barcelona, which I didn't care about. Infest was there as some out to an insane start from Tokens or Kithkin, and the fourth Agony Warp went in over Plumeveil due to concerns about the triple blue cost. I ended up boarding in more cards then I wanted to against Black-White, which I solved by cutting Scions post-board on Sam Black's advice due to Zealous Persecution and their general lack of synergy with Infests. The lack of Sower of Temptation was due to this plan of cutting Scion in that matchup as well, making them just easy targets for spot removal. Even with Scion, the card isn't even the best, as tapping four mana on your main phase leaves you open to all sorts of bad things.
Punt number one of the day was slamming a huge burrito and drink late round 2. Definitely was very sleepy by the time round 3 was ending. It might be worth running the Mike Jacob "hunger for victory" plan in the future.
Round 4: Four-Color Cascade
G1: I mulled to five, but he stalled on four lands while I got an active Bitterblossom. I Mistbind Cliqued him three times in a row, but messed up and didn't champion one of the first two with the third. My attack for 12 wasn't lethal due to him having resolved a Kitchen Finks and Captured Sunlight before being Mana Shorted, and he Maelstrom Pulsed my Mistbind Cliques. My clock was the same with two Mistbinds instead of three, and the token I championed would have lead to me doing exact lethal to him if he Pulsed my Cliques. I didn't have an answer and he kept gaining life out of range of my tokens while I drew no gas and died.
I boarded in 2 Puppeteer Clique, 1 Plumeveil, 2 Vendilion Clique, 2 Flashfreeze, and 2 Thoughtseize for 3 Peppersmoke, 1 Terror, 1 Agony Warp, and 4 Scion of Oona. The removal spells aren't great, and Plumeveil is an upgrade from Agony Warp against Finks. Only two Seizes came in as the card gets awkward in multiples against Anathemancer, and Scion went out as I expected Volcanic Fallout.
G2: There's not much really to say here. I got down an early Blossom, but he played enough 3/2s early to force me to bounce it with Cryptic Command while at 1 life. He resolved a Runed Halo on Mistbind Clique, I couldn't get a Jace Beleren active for long, and I died as every spell he played was a two-for-one or lethal Anathemancer
Round 5: WU Lark?
I think he was playing Reveillark, but I don't remember actually seeing that card.
G1: I had Bitterblossom on turn two, and all he did was play a bunch of Meddling Mages and Tidehollow Scullers. I ended up being able to kill one of them, leading to all of them dying, and the game was pretty easy from there.
I boarded in 2 Vendilion Clique, 2 Puppeteer Clique, and 2 Thoughtseize for 1 Scion of Oona, 3 Peppersmoke, 1 Loxodon Warhammer, and 1 Terror. Terror doesn't kill Sculler and running out early Scions often lead to Sower of Temptation-related blow outs.
G2: I mulliganed to six and decided to keep the one land nuts on the draw. He Scullered my Blossom and I decided to not play lands.
G3: I kept a reasonable hand, killed all of his Grizzly Bears, and he died to a Vendilion Clique.
The games here may seem like there should be more, but there really isn't. This matchup usually isn't close at all if the Faeries player has a legitimate draw. Their guys range from small and irrelevant to clunky and sorcery speed
Round 6: Naya Homebrew
G1: He lead with Qasali Pridemage, and I EOTed a Spellstutter Sprite. He played a Treetop Village the next turn, I took the attack and played a Scion of Oona. For some reason he decided to let me untap and attack before Path to Exileing my Scion which resulted in my second one being a huge blow out. His follow up was a Dauntless Escort the next turn, but it was pretty irrelevant as my 7 power of fliers raced anything he could have. He only played green and white lands and spells this game and could have easily just been Tokens, but he kept complaining about having an out while going to the board, so I put him on having red off the likely out-of-board Fire-lit Thicket into Volcanic Fallout.
I took out 4 Scion of Oona for 1 Agony Warp, 1 Plumeveil, and 2 Flashfreeze. Scion is fairly weak if he has any sweeper.
G2: Turns out, I was right. His first play was a Bloodbraid Elf on turn four into something irrelevant and the next turn I ate it with an in-combat Mistbind Clique. My second Mistbind ate his next turn, and the game was no longer remotely close. He told me after that his "out" game one was Firespout, but with Bloodbraid Elf involved that seems loose to say the least, and I definitely had counters back for it.
Round 7: 5C Walkers
G1: I played Blossom out on turn two, and after I made two tokens he Esper Charmed it. Same for the next one. The third one stuck, however, and all his relevant spells got countered. Had he just drawn cards with the Charms, I probably would have lost as I would be down eight cards to him from where I was (counting the two dead extra Bitterblossoms)
I swapped 3 Peppersmoke, 1 Scion of Oona, and 2 Agony Warp with 2 Vendilion Clique, 4 Thoughtseize. He still had Plumeveil, making Agony Warp slightly live, while Scion is again awkward against Volcanic Fallout. Flashfreeze only really hits Ajani Vengeant, so its not good.
G2: I Thoughtseized his Volcanic Fallout leaving him with nothing relevant. Some combination of Faeries ended up doing the job while I countered anything real he played.
Round 8: WB Tokens
G1: He had Windbrisk Heights into Knight of Meadowgrain into Spectral Procession to my Bitterblossom. His next attack let him Windbrisk up a Glorious Anthem that I Spellstuttered, and he failed to play any more lands, letting me take over the game with a bunch of trades and Peppersmokes before my Faerie tokens killed him.
I boarded in 2 Infest, 1 Agony Warp, 1 Peppersmoke, 1 Plumeveil for 1 Terror and 4 Scion of Oona. In retrospect, boarding out Scion was pretty loose to say the least.
G2. He had Bitterblossom on two, but I had the counter for his three-drop and my drew my own Bitterblossom on turn four. Between an Agony Warp and a Peppersmoke I ended up ahead on tokens and resolved multiple Mistbind Cliques (waiting to cast the first until I have counter back up for a Path to Exile) while he drew all lands.
Round 9: Jund Aggro
G1: Bitterblossom showed up for me on turn two again and his play on three ran into my Spellstutter Sprite. The Putrid Leech he resolved on turn two died to my Agony Warp, and I pretty much sealed the deal when Mistbind Clique resolved. I finally drew the Loxodon Warhammer, but the game would have been the same if it was Sewn-Eye Drake as it just did 3 hasted damage to him.
G2: I kept a no-Blossom hand, and he went Putrid Leech on two, Terror my Plumeveil on four, Terror both my Faeries on five to kill Mistbind Clique, and Terror my chump blocker later to kill me.
G3: I mulled to five into two Spellstutter Sprites, an Agony Warp, and two lands. I asked he if wanted to mull to zero and just play it off the top, saying clearly his five was going to be terrible, but he took his chances. He then actually proceeded to mull to five. He still had double Putrid Leech, but the second got Sprited and I raced the first with Mutavaults and Sprites while he was stuck on two lands. He did make the mistake of pumping Leech when attacking here, trying to race my on-board 4 power. Had he held back on that he would have had more time to get to three lands and start doing things instead of trying to win an already lost race.
I headed over to watch Gavin win into day two on the back of Brian Kibler's Adarkar Wastes. Afterwards, Kibler pulls out a notebook he found with decklists he was brewing up in high school. These things were so old he was using "Wildfire" as an obvious abbreviation for Wildfire Emissary and they were written in the style of the first major Magic strategy books, with cards in blocks of four rather then simply writing 4x Card A and 3x Card B.
For day two, I had a pretty bleak outlook. From what I observed, the best matchup among the common decks was WB, and even that isn't stellar. It appeared to be all mirrors, Elves, and Ram-Gangs from there on out, which is far from optimal.
Round 10: Lark
While talking to my opponent pre-match I asked him what round he lost in. He said the last one, and I explained to him how they put up the images of all the 8-0s playing with notes about what decks they were running. Unfortunately, I used the information incorrectly and put him on Tokens.
G1: I kept a hand of Bitterblossom, Jace, Peppersmoke, and four lands, thinking how sick the Peppersmoke was going to be. He played a Vivid land on turn one, and I felt slightly worried about my hand that was now essentially six cards. I then realized that my hand is Jace and Blossom and I'm playing against Reveillark. Close one, but I won.
In came 2 Vendilion Clique, 2 Puppeteer Clique, and 4 Thoughtseize for 1 Agony Warp, 2 Scion of Oona, 1 Terror, 1 Loxodon Warhammer, and 3 Peppersmoke. The full four Seizes came in as the previous game I had clearly seen the late game cards and Esper Charms, meaning he would likely have a relatively full hand most of the game.
G2: I kept a hand of five lands, Jace, and Cryptic, and he Scullered me on turn two. I ended up killing Sculler and getting Jace active, but I didn't draw enough gas to really compete at that point.
Between games I swapped out one of the Thoughtseizes for an Agony Warp as I no longer needed to preemptively protect my Blossoms from a Charm or Sculler.
G3: I played an early Blossom, and while he had a decent defense he didn't have a real finish to back up the Archmage he resolved. I ended up killing it, Puppeteer Cliqueing his Mulldrifter, and ending the game with more cards in hand than him.
Round 11: Cascade LD
Good, but not that good.
This deck, along with Cascade Swans, is the future. Both are not necessarily that good, but it's a strong indication of the things you can expect to see involving cascade for a long time. You could just cascade for value, like the Five-Color decks, but when it's a tutor on top of that value is when it gets really crazy.
G1: I played Bitterblossom on turn two and got a Jace out before he started going nuts with land destruction. He didn't have a Bloodbraid Elf to apply pressure, but it got to the point where I had two Mutavaults, a Swamp, an active Blossom, and a Jace on four counters in play to his six lands. He missed the fact I could be slow rolling my blue source and chose to Primal Command Jace and fetch Enlisted Wurm instead of using Incendiary Command on my Jace and Mutavault. I had the Secluded Glen in hand, and over the next couple of turns I Mistbind Cliqued him, re-established a mana base, and gained control. Loxodon Warhammer showed up again to pump for lethal, this time doing a solid imitation of Rainbow Efreet by surviving even if he could have killed my Clique when I attacked. He also made the classic Primal Command-a-Mutavault punt late game, but by that point I'm not sure it mattered.
I boarded out 3 Scion of Oona, 3 Peppersmoke, 1 Loxodon Warhammer, and 1 Agony Warp for 2 Flashfreeze, 2 Vendilion Clique, and 4 Thoughtseize.
G2: I kept a hand of Thoughtseize, Broken Ambitions, Cryptic, Mistbind, and three lands. I Thoughtseized him twice on turn two to take both his Bituminous Blasts leaving him with minimal action, but I drew two more Mistbinds and no more Faeries. He started on the Fulminator Mage beat down plan and the turn I was at 10 he played Bloodbraid Elf into Grixis Charm as Fortify. I had eight mana to resolve a Mistbind Championing another one to live, somewhat stabilizing, but I didn't Mistbind him next upkeep, hoping to get him in combat, and he was holding Enlisted Wurm. I died soon after.
G3: He kept six land and Enlisted Wurm. My opener had Thoughtseize and Vendilion Clique. He might have been able to play a spell he top decked if I also didn't double Mistbind him.
Round 12: Josh Wludyka with 5CB
This was an uncovered feature match, and the difference between it and the adjacent one really showed. We started off with a couple people watching, but by the end of game one there were actually zero spectators on our side.
G1: He resolved an early threat and it got real awkward for me to answer it, and my Mistbind Clique got Cryptic Commanded. I ended up making a really stupid punt late game by waiting till after damage resolved to Peppersmoke his Ram-Gang, resulting in me being -1 card, but it was pretty irrelevant as I didn't establish an early board presence.
G2: My hand was the stone nuts, he died really fast.
G3: I mulled to five, but he kept a seven-card hand with only Reflecting Pools. He drew a Twilight Mire and had Leech on two and Sygg, River Cutthroat on three, but I had Bitterblossom and ended up killing the Leech. His fourth land only arrived the turn before I killed him and it was a basic Swamp.
Round 13: Steve Birkland with WB Tokens
G1: I won the die roll and my hand was actually the nuts. Usually the "nuts" is just Blossom, Sprite, then some four-drop or Jace plus removal for aggro, but compared to this hand that was a joke. I ended the game with two Scions and a Sprite in play by casting Cryptic to tap his infinite tokens - I had let him have them because I just didn't care, and I still had another Cryptic, a Mistbind, and a Sprite in hand.
G2: I was happy with my opener of two lands, Blossom, and more cards, but he Scullered the Blossom and I couldn't kill it while he curved out with Finks and Mutavault and Glorious Anthem.
G3: I had Blossom on two, but he resolved his Spectral on three. I got greedy and went for the Mistbind on his fourth upkeep and got blown out by Path to Exile plus Zealous Persecution. I took my 6 but fought back with a bunch of Peppersmokes and Agony Warps, and we ended up even on tokens, each with a Blossom in play but with him up 10 life. He tapped out to play a Cloudgoat Ranger, going hellbent, which I Cryptic-ed to draw into my Loxodon Warhammer. From there it's pretty simple as I just suited up a guy every turn and bashed until he died. He could have drawn a Zealous Persecution on the very last turn to kill me, and at the least I could have played a land the turn before and had mana to activate another Mutavault that turn to prevent this, but luckily for me his last draw was a dead one.
Rounds 14 + 15: ID
We did the math and figured out all the people at 12-1 cold double draw in as there were only 16 people at X-2 at the start of round 14. They would have to win twice to get ahead of a 38 pointer, so that would leave at most four people with more points.
The top 8 matches started way earlier then I had expected, which meant there was absolutely no way I could miss my flight even if I won the event. How lucky. I was definitely the worst player in the top 8 by a decent margin. The only person I was unsure of was DuPont, but I have been told he's a MTGO ringer.
Top 8: Paulo Vitor Dama De Rosa with Faeries
Sigh, the mirror. I had dodged this bullet all event. The only thing worse then this matchup is one with Boggart Ram-Gang. The match is pretty well covered on the main site, but here's the abridged version.
G1: I had Blossom on two, he didn't.
G2: I drew into Blossom on turn four, but it was late enough that he had the ability to interact with it. At a key point I decided to try and stop his Mistbind from resolving with double Peppersmoke on Sower and got blown out by Scion. It's possible I shouldn't have done that, but I figured if he championed Sower to Mistbind it would only lead to bad things as it would be very easy for him to reloop it, especially with me tapped out. He had another Sower on top of the Scion and I suddenly went from the aggressor to either having to aggressively block and trade for his Sower or hope to rip a Cryptic for lethal while chumping Mistbind. I chose the later option, the Cryptic wasn't there.
G3: He has Thoughtseize plus Blossom and I only have Blossom.
12-2-2, officially on the train (qualified for Austin and Worlds, need 1 extra point for level four next year between two Pro Tours, two or three GPs, and Nats)
Of the deck I ran, I liked the vast majority of it. The main deck I felt was perfect. I didn't feel I wanted main-deck Thoughtseize, despite everyone else having it. If you decide you want the card, you can easily make room, but the issue is that the card only serves to leverage an advantage in already favorable matchups (Lark, 5CC, Swans) and the mirror. The cards you would cut for it, most likely Jace or Peppersmoke, also give you an advantage in the mirror while helping out against Tokens, which is not an auto-win. Its also hard to fit more than two or three of the card in the deck, an issue when its optimal use is often on turn one. As for other cards, Peppersmoke was insane when it was good and obviously terrible in the matchups where it's bad (control). However those are mostly the ones you can afford to sacrifice a small margin on, and it at least can cycle EOT on a Mutavault or in response to a removal spell. It's marginal against red and green decks, but there is still a combat step in those matchups and it is simply playable but not exceptional as it never straight up kills a guy. The one Terror is the only marginal card in the main deck, and I can see cutting it if you don't expect to play against a X/4 or bigger. The Warhammer is also a bit of personal preference, but I don't really see what else I would want in that slot. I've tested a lot of the alternatives (Soul Manipulation, more removal) and been unimpressed. In the board, the Infests were pretty terrible as they are overly narrow and conflict with Scion of Oona in the matchups where it's best. Those slots are best served as some Deathmarks to kill Putrid Leeches, and the Flashfreeze/Vendilion Clique split should also shift with the increased presence of Elves in the metagame. The fourth Agony Warp in the board should also just be a Plumeveil as that card is just nuts against the format. If you want to run Faeries here is the list I would suggest.
I think Faeries is going to be a strong choice next weekend. The metagame is currently shifting away from the decks that cause Fae serious issues enough that if you get a couple good pairings (read: play Reveillark once) and play well, winning a PTQ this weekend should be easy. However, if you expect to play more then two decks with Boggart Ram-Gang in the Swiss, this is not the deck to play. Winning one out of two is reasonable, winning two out of three is pushing it. In this scenario, play WU Reveillark. Same applies if you feel uncomfortable playing against the Spectral Procession decks with Faeries. The same basic principle applies here, only instead of dodging red you are dodging Faeries, which should be relatively easy if you expect a field of red cards. Fellow Michigander Kurtis Drodge won a PTQ in Detroit with an interesting build of the deck, eschewing the more traditional Sower of Temptation for Figure of Destiny and Ranger of Eos. Barring the Heap Doll in his board, the deck is pretty good. In testing pre-Alara Reborn, the matchup between the Figure version and Faeries, while favorable for Fae, was not quite the auto-win normal Lark decks are because Figure of Destiny often forced the Faeries player to make awkward plays to deal with it while respecting the larger late game threats from the deck. Against aggressive decks, Figure provides a 4/4 body, which is pretty huge. The Martial Coups in the board are also sick, especially given the amount of acceleration the deck runs. Even with Maelstrom Pulse being everywhere, the card provides such a game-swinging effect your opponent often just can't come back from the first. The only other two decks I would come close to considering are Swans if you really feel the field is soft to it or 5CB if you have the necessary experience with the deck or just run back an older build that while worse against Fae and Swans makes the WB matchup a bye.
Best of luck on PTQ grind. More so if you choose not to run Cryptic or Bloodbraid Elf, as you will definitely need it.