Now that Extended is a real life Magic Online format (the first online PTQ kicked off today), I expect the format to evolve quite rapidly. A week on Magic Online is like a month of live tournaments, mainly due to the quantity and accessibility of information. With the lists from every Daily Event and PTQ easily available online, formats tend to cycle way faster than they normally would. Once anyone comes up with a good innovation (note to self: transfer 25 cents into Patrick Chapin’s paypal), it is immediately seized by others, and you can expect it to become quite common in a matter of days.
A good example of this is the state of Prismatic Omen decks. Due to the multiple articles on the subject, most people started with similar Omen lists, and as those lists had success online, the range of lists narrowed even more. At this point, the dominant Omen list is the UGw Wargate list, since success begets success. This affects more than just individual lists, and the metagame itself tends to cycle almost as rapidly.
When I first started writing about Extended, (here and here), the metagame went from being very undefined to somewhat undefined, with all of the decks I talked about showing up in various quantities. I didn’t expect to face any given deck all that often, and playing flexible cards seemed like the best plan. Then, MTGO happened. Partly because of all the writing I did about 4-CC, and partially because the deck was very good against an undefined field, 4-CC became one of the most played decks. This, of course, led to a reaction, which was the rise of Fae:
The manabase can be tweaked as necessary, though I do like 26 lands, since Wurmcoil Engine isn’t very easy to cast otherwise. Seven of those lands being manlands also makes the high land count work, since getting flooded isn’t very easy. The other 9 slots are taken up by the following cards:
4th Mistbind Clique
4th Spellstutter Sprite
4th Vendilion Clique
Scion of Oona (in place of some number of Vendilions)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Inquisition of Kozilek
I would choose 4-6 removal slots from Doom Blade,Agony Warp, Smother, and Disfigure, then add the 4th Mistbind, 2 Big Jaces, and possibly 1 Wurmcoil Engine. I haven’t determined the exact mix yet, but the removal changes quite often anyway. The sideboard is pretty flexible too, but I am loving Wall of Tanglecord. It is actually the real deal, especially since Mono-Red is beginning to make a comeback (which I’ll talk about in a bit). Potential Sideboard cards:
3 Wall of Tanglecord
1-2 Consuming Vapors
1-2 Wurmcoil Engine (depending if you maindeck one)
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Spell Pierce
1-2 Disfigure (up to 4 total)
2 Jace Beleren
2 Ratchet Bomb
As you can tell, I like 1-ofs. This may not be news, but I think it serves a real purpose here. When testing, I like to try out as many different cards as possible, since that gives you the best overall idea of what cards you want in your deck.
Now, the rise of Faeries obviously triggered a backlash, since that’s what happens when a deck becomes prominent. We are long past the days of one unbeatable deck, and for every deck there is a foil, which in this case seems like Mono-Red. Of course, you also have to factor price into account. Mono-Red isn’t the absolute cheapest deck, since it has [card]Figure of Destiny[/card] and fetchlands, but it is way cheaper than Faeries or 4-CC, which does matter online (more so than live events, at least).
In order to get a Mono-Red list, I had to consult an expert, since it isn’t exactly something I have a ton of experience with. According to Owen Turtenwald, the best deck in the format (not close), is the following masterpiece:
Owen: If you are looking for a very skill-intensive and fun deck, look no further! I sometimes mulligan in the dark just to keep things fair, since otherwise I would just win too much.
I’m not saying that Mono-Red crushes Faeries, since that isn’t exactly the case, but it certainly is good against it. Faeries has never had a great matchup vs this deck, even back in Standard, and even when Faeries had access to Ancestral Visions. Of course, Volcanic Fallout being printed in the interim did nothing to help. Just birding the PTQ showed a ton of both decks, though I wasn’t able to hang around long enough to see what ended up winning. Of course, it being a PTQ led to a pretty wide open field, since any tournament with over 200 people is going to showcase a wide variety of decks.
The trick to staying ahead of the metagame is correctly anticipating what the next step is. Now, you don’t want to be too far ahead, since that leads to the same result as just being behind, but being One Step Ahead (GerryT to be included in royalty payments) is the ideal situation. If you were the first to play Faeries a few weeks ago, you would have found yourself in a good spot. I would say the same is true about Mono-Red, but let’s be real: that deck is never going to win a tournament. I mention it because you need to be able to beat it, not because I seriously recommend playing it.
Part of the problem right now is that there is nothing that easily beats both Faeries and Mono-Red; hell, there is nothing that easily beats Faeries to begin with. As loathe as I am to admit it, Faeries is the deck to beat right now, and I expect it to dominate this season. Jund may not be a bad choice, since it not only has access to many of the cards that do well against Faeries (Great Sable Stag, Volcanic Fallout, Bloodbraid Elf), but it can also be tweaked to have a solid Mono-Red matchup (Kitchen Finks, Primal Command, cheap removal). It doesn’t even have to give up Anathemancer, which rocks against both 4-CC and Faeries, and it can sideboard into good configurations against most decks. Another reasonable deck is Wargate Omen, since it isn’t the worst against Faeries. If they play a t2 Bitterblossom and you play a t2 Prismatic Omen, you are favored. Playing blue, white, and green also offers a ton of options in terms of the red matchup; just take your pick. For a few takes on Scapeshift, check out Josh Silvestri’s article here and Matt Nass’ article here.
It feels like the rapid cycling of the format is slowing down somewhat, since people are starting to settle down into what the viable decks are. The chaff is finding itself cut, and the lists are getting more and more tuned. Here is what I think the Tier 1 decks are currently:
Behind these decks are:
And finally, decks I wouldn’t recommend:
Besides the suggestions I had above (Jund and Omen decks), you could definitely still win a tournament with 4-CC or Faeries. I like 4-CC against everything but Faeries, though if Mono-Red gets too big I would test the matchup to make sure the Vendilion Cliques haven’t made you too soft. Faeries isn’t a huge dog to much, though the mirror is miserable and you would rather not face Mono-Red. I don’t know what the next big deck is, since if it is a deck that is currently unknown, well, I don’t know about it! If you are preparing for an upcoming event, whether it be a PTQ or GP Atlanta, I would say that you should play a few games with each of the Tier 1 decks, and figure out which fits your playstyle best (you can skip this step if you already know). Then, take that deck and practice the hell out of it. Time and time again I am asked what the “best” deck is to take to a tournament in a few days. The best deck is almost always just the deck you know best, assuming you have picked something that is capable of winning the tournament (basically any of the above decks minus Merfolk and WG Trap). The difference between the top couple decks isn’t huge, and being able to play the deck at a high level of competence is worth way more than switching at the last minute.
If you haven’t committed to a deck yet, I would pick one of the top decks and see if it is what you like. If so, battle it until you know the list inside and out. At that point, you can make more informed decisions about sideboarding, the maindeck configuration, and what picture of basic lands to play (very important). It may seem like I say this a lot, but people need to be told, so I’ll keep saying it as long as I keep getting asked what deck to play at the PTQ in 2 days.
As for me…while I would love to play 4-CC in Atlanta, I’m really not sure. Faeries might just dissuade me, though if the field is truly wide open, I might have to settle for losing to Fae and having solid numbers everywhere else. We will see in a few weeks I guess!
Bonus story time:
And now, time for a little story. You can hear Mark Herberholz’ side of the story here, but he probably got it wrong, being a little drunk and all. In any case, the setting is Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur 2008. It was the first PT after Cheon and I levelled up, and we had practiced a fair amount for it. The format was Lorwyn-Lorwyn-Morningtide draft, which wasn’t the best or worst draft format. Tribal was the theme, so whatever tribe you ended up in after the first few picks was generally what you stuck with, since the rewards for drafting a focused tribe deck were pretty strong.
The tournament started out pretty well for me. I was in a seven-man pod, and when I checked the pairings for round 1, I saw that I was battling against the elusive *BYE*. Now if that isn’t a way to start off the Pro Tour, I don’t know what is. After walking around and watching the rest of the unfortunates try and earn their first match win, I was ready to battle. I managed to pull out a 1-1, which wasn’t too exciting, but left me in a decent spot to make day 2. Back then, you needed to go 4-2 to advance, which meant another 2-1 and I was at least playing on day 2.
My second deck was a niiiiice one. I was presumably kithkin aggro, which was a fine archetype, but I let my typical greed get in the way of having a real deck. Not only was I kithkin aggro, but I was playing a Fertile Ground for manafixing. See, I needed that Fertile Ground, since I was also playing a Tarfire for removal…and a Mulldrifter, for card draw. As it turns out, four-color kithkin beats is NOT the way to go, and I rattled off a quick 1-2. Missing day 2 was pretty terrible, but at least I would be able to find drafts among the other people who were going to show up shamefacedly at noon or so during day 2.
Cut to the evening of day 2, where I was approached by a slightly inebriated Mark Herberholz, along with Hat (Nassif) and a random dude (Matt Sperling, who I didn’t really know at the time). He wanted to draft, and I figured it didn’t get much better than this. Heezy was drunk, Hat never wins a match in Limited, and their third was best known as “Sam Stein’s 2HG teammate”. I couldn’t think of a better way to detilt myself, especially since at this point Cheon was plummeting from 8-0 to like 10-5 or something (lifetime split etc).
My team wasn’t the best, since I didn’t have Cheon (too busy losing it all in the PT), my perennial draft partner. What I did have was the Doctor (Chris Lachmann), who surprisingly wasn’t drunk, and BK (not to be confused with any Kowals), a friend of mine from NorCal who won a PTQ.
We squeaked out the first win 5-4, and were immediately challenged again by Heezy. I figured why not run it back? We crushedbarely defeated them, and both Heezy and Sperling appeared to be hammered, so whatever. Of course, part of running it back was increasing the ante, so we played for a hundred. Things didn’t go so well that time. We got a little unlucky, Hat had a Cloudgoat Ranger, the Doctor started drinking, and I probably just ran bad. Who knows? At the end of the draft, I found myself in the unenviable position of handing Heezy money, something that happens all too often when I draft with him.
I couldn’t let it stand at that, so I proposed a final draft, one that would get me even if I won. After all, I couldn’t run bad twice in a row, right? Strangely enough, since this was going to be the final draft, Heezy and Sperling both immediately appeared to be quite sober after the first few picks. That meant that not only did they have the alcohol processing abilities of long-term alcoholics, but that they also were slowrolling their apparent drunkenness. As I handed Heezy more of myPaul’s hard earned money, I began to suspect that I had been a little played. A glance at Heezy did more than confirm my suspicions, as he began his trademark cackle, and start gloating about how well he hooked me. I would like to say that it was the last time Heezy tricked me, but I’ll be honest; I can’t resist battling him, and drunk or not, he usually finds a way to get the W in the end.