Welcome to the last day of the year. Most of you are getting some last minute nerd time in before celebrating New Year’s, but there is something important I want to remind you guys of. Don’t do anything stupid tonight! I know it’s a very fun night, but so many bad things come out of December 31st if you are not being careful. I am not even going to get into it since some of my audience is young, but for most of you…you know what I am talking about!

So, I spent the last week working on Extended. It is fairly new to me, even though I played it at Worlds. I was in the select few that just picked up a deck made by LSV and went to battle without a ton of testing. I maybe should have worked harder on the format, but I wasn’t even in any good contention to make a run so I guess it didn’t matter really. Now I am paying for the ill preparation since there is an Extended Grand Prix coming up in the next month.

Coming into this week, all I wanted to do is beat down. Maybe it is all the time I have been spending with Brian Kibler in the last month, or possibly that combat is my true home, but turning guys sideways sounds like a ton of fun. The problem with this is that the format is slightly dominated by 4cc, and that matchup can be terrible no matter what creatures you send into the red zone.

Since the last aggressive deck I played in Extended was Doran, I decided to sleeve that up. The problem was that I needed to work on a list. I looked through what was doing well in the daily events and lucked out and found a Doran list:

Even though this decklist was the inspiration for trying Doran again, there were many things about it that looked wrong. The first thing that seemed weird is that Noble Hierarch was the four-of mana accelerator. I understand that it has an extra ability, but Doran has never been the type of deck that attacks with only one guy.

I think it is more important to be playing with Birds of Paradise. This card allows for easier access to black mana in the early turns. This was one of the problems we had when working on the deck for Pro Tour Amsterdam. It could be difficult to produce BB with three lands. Now that this design will be able to produce three mana by turn two does not mean this rule shouldn’t apply.

The other thing that seemed odd was not using the Scars of Mirrodin lands that seem to fit every aggressive strategy. These lands were built for this style of deck and I think they should be used. With a few other changes this is what I came up with.

So I would like to tell you that this deck was able to fight the metagame head on and still be as good as it once was, but I just can’t. There are a ton of problems that this deck faces, and every other beat down deck in format. The first problem is Wall of Omens.

Wall of Omens is very good against most aggressive decks but especially good against the Doran deck because it plays Doran. Wall of Omens gets such a boost when the namesake is on the other side of the table. This card gives them enough time to get to the late game and start casting their powerful spells.

The biggest problem is that the removal right now is very good. What this means is that other decks will put Doran into topdeck mode quickly because they are able to deal with the first few threats. Doran’s opening draws tend to be threat light because of all the other cards in the deck. When this happens, Doran loses most of its chance at winning. While the opponent is drawing relevant spells, Doran is drawing all of its one drops. This does not make for a very exciting, close game.

Adding the later game spells can help with this, but just isn’t enough to put the deck over the top. Even though Elspeth, Knight-Errant is very good against most decks, if they’ve got you topdecking the game is usually over.

The interesting thing about this deck and others like it is that when it wins, it wins well. This is a trap that I have come across one too many times. I play a ton of different decks when I prepare for an event. The only way this works is if you get a good read on a deck without wasting too much time. These type of decks will almost always set me back on time if I am not careful enough.

What happens is a deck will be very powerful, yet very inconsistent at the same time. This does not mean the deck is inconsistent in goldfishing, but rather spotty on the line of battle. It does very well and has the ability to crush every deck, but still loses over 50% of the games. It just doesn’t feel like that since it is so easy to remember how well it performed in the games it was winning.

This is why it is so important to document the easiest stat, match win percentage. This will allow you to find if a deck has what it takes before wasting too much time. It doesn’t mean you can’t change around some numbers and still spend some more time on it. I would only spend more time on a deck if it doesn’t have a very big core of cards that need to be played. In the case of Doran, it does.

I decided to abandon my new love for beating down after I got such sour results with Doran. I moved on to the new UW Sun Titan deck that has been popping up. This is the list:

I was very interested in this deck for a couple of reasons. The first thing that appealed to me was the four Sun Titans. This card seems very good in Extended because of the one-for-one atmosphere that is going around. Cruel Ultimatum is one of the only cards that can generate more than a two-for-one and Sun Titan can stone cold blank the card. Bringing back a Kitchen Finks before getting Cruel Ultimatum-ed seems really good.

The deck also seems to have a decent angle against Faeries after game one. War Priest of Thune along side all of the other creatures can put Faeries on the defensive really quick. If this deck happens to have the counters to back it up, Faeries will not have enough footing to come back.

I played about 10 matches with this deck before I formed an opinion about it. I easily beat a couple of 4cc players, but couldn’t get a 50% win percentage against Faeries. This is not the place you want to be at in the online metagame. I know that it might be different outside of MTGO, but Faeries is what will get played in the first couple weeks of PTQ’s from my experience. It is only natural to expect a high number of fae in any upcoming live events.

The reason this deck is weak to Faeries is that its curve is very random. It has one drops all the way up to six drops and no real chemistry to smooth it out. This can make for some clunky initial draw steps. I played too many games where I kept a high casting cost hand and drew more of the same. These games were embarrassingly not close.

This deck seems to be another dead end in the metagame. It plays some of the most powerful cards in the format, but is slightly too clunky to maneuver when it has to. I just don’t think this deck gives me enough plays to justify piloting it.

I never got to play against anything where Mindlock Orb got off the bench, but I still think Leyline of Sanctity seems like a better call. I am not sure of this since I never got a chance to find out. The same goes for the Austere Command.

I did like how good Baneslayer Angel was, and am curious if the old UW No-Lark deck could make a comeback. Just a ton of good guys, some countermagic, and the big Dragon Slayer!

I hit two big dead ends this week. It kind of sucks to say that since I have always tried to bring new tech to the battlefield when I write my articles. I probably just didn’t have enough time to fully explore the metagame, with Christmas and all. While I was writing this article, I put together a stock list of Faeries and am starting to run two mans with that deck. Hopefully I find something out that doesn’t involve me saying, “Play Faeries!”

I do have something I want to say before I wrap this article up. I feel like talking a bit about this last year since it is the last day and all. At the start of this year I was just your run of the mill pro player on the train. I still was getting my feet wet and trying to find glory and maybe a few trophies on the way.

I did in fact find it. At Worlds this year I was so sure I was taking home the title of Player of the Year. Everyone was talking about it, and I had such a huge lead that it would take one of seven people making the finals of the event to strip it form me. That in fact happened and for a brief moment I was crushed. I didn’t know how this could have happened since the Magic media got me to buy into the cookie cutter story about the new kid taking over Magic.

I was pretty heart broken and called my dad just to say hi. I was more looking for family support, since I was that emotionally wrecked. What my Dad told me completely brought me full circle. He reminded me that only twelve months ago I would have dreamed of being tied for Player of the Year, let alone making the top 8 of half of my premium events, two of which were Pro Tours. I had an amazing year.

The funniest thing about this is that I do not feel any different than when I was writing my article twelve months ago. I am still the same kid hopping that people like my articles, and at the same time trying to figure out this ever changing game. Nothing has really changed. Have I gotten better? Sure. Am I the best player to hit the game? Of course not.

I am not going to sell myself short and say I am not good at this game because I put a ton of time into being good. That’s really what it takes. A ton of hard work and effort. I don’t have it as easy as Paulo does in that he can walk into an event with less testing than me and dominate. I put my heart and soul into getting prepared for events. That is what it takes to make it.

We all have the potential to be great Magic players. It takes three things to be good at this game: time, talent, and the fire. You have to want it so bad that your bones ache. You need to have the time to spend on actually working towards greatness. It doesn’t come easily, and everyone still needs a bit of luck to do well, but all the luck in the world won’t save you if you can’t take advantage of it. You have to work for it.

Tomorrow is the start of the new year. Pro Points go back to zero and it is the first day of the season. This is the best time to start a run at the gravy train for 2012. Pro Tour Qualifiers start in a couple weeks as do Grands Prix. This was my year, I want next years to be yours! Have a wonderful New Year’s!

Brad Nelson