Black has an interesting history of showing up in absolutely dominating deckbuilds… since, oh, say, the “Black Summer” of 1996, when everybody was running Necropotence decks. In recent years, Golgari and Blightning come to mind, as does Vampires. In early 2008, the black deck of choice was the black-and-blue Faeries. Lorwyn was already a bit on the power side, in the eyes of many players. (A skilled player who draws a good hand can use the Lorwyn Merfolk theme deck to take out ex-Type II decks from Time Spiral and Ravnica. I’ve seen it happen, and know a handful of people who boycotted “Morwyn” because their tricked-out formerly-Type-II decks were owned by a precon.) Faeries did nothing to promote the contrary.
Faeries is an interesting deck: unlike your average blue/black deck, like the average Dimir deck, it doesn’t revolve around heavy discard or mill themes. Instead, it’s a control deck and a weenie deck, and a suicide weenie deck at that. It reminds me a lot of Necropotence and Necro-decks in a way: both revolve around a single, powerful enchantment, which gives you a minor, easily exploitable boon in exchange for life. The similarities end about there. Necro was an aggro deck, with lots of fast, cheap attackers combined with direct damage (bolts) and card disruption (Hymn to Tourach). Faeries is a slow, reactionary buildup, protecting itself through heavy control elements, leading up to an aggro token blitz.
Building Fairies is a fairly simple procedure, especially now that the cards have rotated out and dropped in value. At its core, the deck revolves around using a trio of cards: Bitterblossom, Scion of Oona, and Mistbind Clique. Together, these are what the deck works around, and everything else goes into the deck to ensure their survival.
Quite simply the deck doesn’t fly so well unless you get Bitterblossom out, quickly and regularly. Mulligan-ing down to an optimal hand of a ‘blossom and enough land to cast it can be a viable strategy. After it’s out, the deck becomes a slow and methodical control deck, keeping the game in your control with counter and removal, while building up the necessary token force with the ‘blossom. Playing reactionary is easy since all the Faeries have Flash, enabling you to save your mana, playing instants creatures during your opponent’s turn. Dropping a Scion of Oona stops opponents’ removal in mid-air, add another one and they’re both shrouded, and each Scion pumps your faeries up by +1/+1 to boot. Once you’ve amassed a sizable token army, drop a Mistbind Clique right after your opponent’s untap phase; since they’re tapped out, it works effectively as a Time Walk that allows them an untap-creatures-and-combat phase. Now that they’re dead in the water, swing away, Merrill.
Of course, the deck uses a lot of good support cards, too: Ancestral Vision gives it some cheap card draw, allowing the deck to keep the ammunition flowing, Terror for removal, Rune Snag for counterspells. The snag is an interesting pick, but don’t forget, it’s a solid early-game counterspell, it’s cheap, and is one of the few good things to come from Coldsnap. Nameless Inversion also shows up in many of them; I’ve never been a huge fan of the card, but it is a cheap and dirty way to off something you don’t like; honestly I’d rather just use Doom Blade from M10 to augment Terror as removal.
On top of this, there’s a fairly solid counterspell combo out there with Spellstutter Sprite and Familiar’s Ruse: use the Ruse to return the Sprite to your hand, and you’ve just given yourself another Counterspell. On top of that, both of them cost only two mana in an era of three-mana Cancels. You can easily just sit back and counter anything interesting your opponent is playing—removal, direct damage spells, creatures with flying, and other stuff that can seize up Fairies.
Like most tourney-level decks, multicolored lands are a necessity: this is a fairly tight deck using two colors, and getting the right mana is essential to the deck’s flow. Secluded Glen works great, being in-block and all, 10th had painlands and M10/M11 has Drowned Catacomb, River of Tears was in the Time block, and the Ravnica shocklands were just a few sets away: looking at you, Watery Grave. Faerie Conclave was in 10th Edition and can be an interesting asset to throw in, changing into a 2/1 flying faerie for a turn, which might be just what you need to off an opponent.
Faeries is a fairly balanced deck; its control elements are strong enough to hem in most decks, and its creatures all have evasion (flying) and flash, making them very versatile. Between its counters and removal, nothing you don’t want to get through gets through.
The basic tourney-level deck list was build around a strong core, something along the lines of:Creatures: 4x Spellstutter Sprite 4x Scion of Oona 4x Mistbind Clique Spells: 4x Bitterblossom 4x Ancestral Vision 4x Terror 4x Rune Snag 4x Cryptic Command Land: 4x Secluded Glen 3x Underground River 3x River of Tears 4x Mutavault
Mutavault and Cryptic Command are tourney-level staples for this era, and their value in a more casual-level deck is debatable. The Vault is a good defense against a Wrath, and the Command is a very versatile spell for blue. Also note that Familiar’s Ruse isn’t on the list; I’ve seen it on casual deck lists for Faeries, but never saw it on Pro Tours or anything.
My build is aiming at less tourney and more casual; Mutavault and Cryptic Command are still pricey cards, after all, so I passed on them.Creatures: 4x Spellstutter Sprite 4x Scion of Oona 4x Mistbind Clique 2x Pestermite Spells: 4x Bitterblossom 4x Ancestral Vision 4x Terror 4x Rune Snag 4x Familiar’s Ruse 3x Duress 1x Notorious Throng Land: 4x Secluded Glen 4x Watery Grave 4x Jwar Isle Refuge 4x Island 4x Swamp 2x Faerie Conclave
The Jwar Isle Refuges are counter to the deck’s ideal speed, but not only are they cheap, their 1 life gain helps fight back the ticking time bomb of the ‘blossom. I found myself not paying for the Graves’ shock ability in a number of games, which signaled (to me) that putting in the Refuges was a better idea than what I was using. Pestermite was a standard sideboard choice for Faeries, and combines well with Familiar’s Ruse to make it a recurring problem. Duress lets me keep an eye on my opponent’s hand, and better yet, allows me to pitch any enchantment-destroying cards I see. It’s not my first choice; I’d honestly like to get a playset of Damnations and use ‘blossoms as a recovery format. Notorious Throng was thrown in as a lark, and because the ‘blossom generates 1/1 faerie rogues. Eventually, the Islands and Swamps will become multi-lands, once I get around to it, but the deck works decent enough as-is.
Faeries is still a fairly pricey deck to build, even without the Mutavaults and Commands. (Note that removing playsets of those two cards drops about $80 off the deck’s price tag.) The ‘blossom itself still goes in the neighborhood of $10-15. The Scion and Clique have dropped in price from around $10 to the $2.50 region; I picked up 3 Cliques and 4 Scions for under ten bucks off eBay. (Granted, this was about a year ago.) Ancestral Vision, the other big rare, has dropped from its lofty $12 heights to around $4.50 each.
Multi-lands aren’t cheap, either, but most of these are about budget priced. Watery Graves are still about $10; for the less-good multis, Drowned Catacomb goes for around $3-4, Underground River is about $2.50, the Glen is about $2 each, and River of Tears goes for even less.
Other than that, the rest of the cards are commons and uncommons; Faerie Conclave and Rune Snag are the pricier ones, since I’ve seen them go for $1.50 each, but you can still find them in the random common/uncommon bins at a FLGS. Outside of the Bitterblossom and Watery Grave, all the rares cost $2-4; considering how few of them are crap rares, this is a steal. Still, a budget Faeries is still pretty pricey; expect to pay upwards of $60, and that’s if you start with some of the cards, cut corners on eBay, and do some healthy trading. Compared to what Faeries cost in its prime, and considering it’s still a viable deck build… it could be worse.