Extended PTQ season is upon us, and it is a great format to showcase deckbuilding creativity. The last time I tried my hand at Extended deckbuilding, Ben Rubin had come up with a strange new version of Zoo; he had some good ideas for the maindeck, but no sideboard. Several hours later, we had a well-tuned maindeck (which was actually very similar to Ben’s original direction; it really was a masterstroke when it emerged from his head) and I was proud to have contributed mightily to a sideboard that was quite simply the best in the tournament.

I know this deck has been talked about over and over so I’ll just give a couple of my personal lessons-learned from my work on the deck:

I kept trying to build Blood Moon decks in our testing. I tried UR, Big Ritual All-In Red, RG, and other Blood Moon decks. None were good enough against the gauntlet (the sampling of the metagame we used to test decks against), but I never lost what was driving my desire to play Blood Moon: the idea that almost all the decks we liked in the format did not want to see a Blood Moon come out. We were all excited about Grove of the Burnwillows + Punishing Fire, and we assumed others would be excited as well (they weren’t), we knew people would be showing up with Dark Depths, and we knew so many of the decks on the net and our own decks were cheating hard on basic lands, running 2, 1, or even 0.

I kept this in my back pocket, and when it came time to build a sideboard for Rubin Zoo, I knew where I wanted to go (hint: it rhymes with Flood Boon). I also liked what Meddling Mage was capable of in a format where people would be relying on Vampire Hexmage, Punishing Fire, Dread Return, Hypergenesis, or other 1 or 2 card combos (like Scapeshift; though I wasn’t paying close attention to Scapeshift at the time, I did play vs. it in Austin).

The lesson of recognizing which cards are well-positioned in a metagame means seeing the trees for the forest so to speak. What is it that I like about this UR deck with Blood Moon, even though it underperformed in testing? Is there a way to get Card X into this deck if it can fill several holes in my strategy all at once? You have to recognize that cards that have never been tried before in an archetype can sometimes be squeezed in if they provide a powerful enough effect. In a format with very flexible mana, recognizing which cards are the best in general and specifically which are the best “silver bullets” when building a sideboard is critical.

Getting back to the current Extended: Two great things about having Paul Rietzl on your team are that he is a great tuner of decks and he often keeps an eye open for decks of the past that people have mostly forgotten about. He often combines these skills and will tune an archaic deck for what he views as the current metagame, and he is good at yielding a playable deck from this process. This has the benefit of not requiring him to come up with an idea for a totally new deck, something he admits he struggles with. In addition to being good at tuning decks, Paul is also a very good player, as his success in 2009 and years past indicated. The lesson here is that you don’t need to do EVERYTHING well. Paul isn’t the best at coming up with novel deck ideas, but through tuning existing decks and teaming up with others who do like to “Innovate” (TM Patrick Chapin 1997-2009), he does more than OK.

Paul Rietzl recently took the age-old White Weenie deck concept, tuned it to a modern metagame, and won an Extended Premier Event on Magic Online with the following list:

Today I’ll spend a little more time than Paul did considering each card choice (and I’ll even be sober while making the list, just to further distance this process from Paul’s), while laying out alternatives so that you readers at home can try what you like and tune the deck as Paul himself would do. I also have tried to take a look at expanding into other colors to add some resilience against popular control and combo decks of the day. So here’s the breakdown, starting with the maindeck.

THE CREATURES

THE ONE DROPS

Figure of Destiny and Isamaru should be familiar to anyone who has picked up a deck like this. The interesting thing here is the replacement of more Savannah Lions (or Elite Vanguards if you’re not into the whole nostalgia thing) with Steppe Lynx. Steppe Lynx is usually at least as effective an attacker as a Lions, and often strictly better. 22 land isn’t an endless supply, but these guys lose their effectiveness or are dead in a couple of turns anyway.

Forge-Tender is almost good enough to maindeck over Isamaru. Something that sounds crazy, but is worth considering if enough control players turn to Firespout to solve various problems.

THE TWO DROPS

Now we start to get some real choices. Here is a non-exhaustive list of potential 2 drops for this deck:

Knight of Meadowgrain

White Knight (this guy just isn’t as good as Meadowgrain so we can move on)

Soltari Priest

Gaddock Teeg (excellent in the current metagame, stops sweeper effects like Engineered Explosives and Wrath of God, while also disrupting Gifts Ungiven, Tezzeret, Scapeshift, Dread Return)

Meddling Mage (Hard to justify over Teeg, but maybe in a world where you want more than 4 Teeg or would also like to run Spell Snare, this is the choice)

Ethersworn Canonist (just not as effective as other disruptive 2-drops currently since Hypergenesis isn’t that popular)

Samurai of the Pale Curtain (shines against Thopter/Sword, good against Dredge at turning off bridge, a better attacker than Teeg and Pikula)

Wizened Cenn (you already have 8 kithkin you want to play)

Kor Aeronaut (competing for Soltari Priest’s evasion spot on the roster, without the benefit of Pro Red)

Kataki, War’s Wage (Affinity is about as fashionable as Roller Shoes right now; a little kid or clueless and awkward adult might show up with it, but that’s about it (Paul Rietzl, who loves Affinity more than life itself, and played it recently at GP LA and PT Austin, draws a little from category A and a little from category B))

Squire (We often forget that this timeshifted gem is Extended legal! Very effective with Jitte, and at protecting your larger creatures against an opponent’s Porphyry Nodes)

Paul has chosen Soltari Priest and Knight of Meadowgrain. The Priest is excellent in a deck with 4 Jitte, because playing so many equipment opens you up to losing when you draw 2 Jitte and all your men get Bolted/Punishing fired/Firespouted. Priest also allows you to commit more to the board against a deck with Firespout. She is poor vs. Tezzeret and Dredge given the opportunity cost of playing her is the ability to summon a Samurai of the Pale Curtain, Gaddock Teeg, or Meddling Mage. Knight of Meadowgrain over those same disruptive 2 drops is a metagame call that implies Paul anticipates playing against decks with Lightning Bolt more often than he plays vs decks with Scapeshift, Thopter Foundry, or Dread Return.

I don’t think this is a correct decision for 2 reasons: the first is that when you find yourself in the matchup you hedged in favor of (e.g. your Meadowgrain is facing down a burn deck or your Teeg is facing Scapeshift), the disruptive creature is so much better than a Knight of Meadowgrain would have been. Often it is outcome determinative; you may not have any other plan vs Scapeshift or Dread Return, but you’ll win if you stick a Teeg. When Meadowgrain comes out, it is good, but far from necessary or extremely powerful. It often is killed by a burn spell, which is helpful for you given that it saves your face and other creatures from harm, but you aren’t necessarily far ahead in the exchange. So even if I expect Burn and Zoo decks to be more prevalent than Combo or Wrath decks, Teeg is so much better when you need him that I tend to favor adding him to the deck.

The second reason I would play Teeg is that I think the Dredge, Scapeshift, and Tezzeret strategies will be extremely popular strategies in the coming metagame. Teeg forces you to add another color, and makes your Processions worse, so leaving him in the sideboard and adding a couple Temple Gardens to the maindeck remains an option.

THE THREE DROPS

As Ikeda’s Zoo deck from PT Austin demonstrated, Spectral Procession is good in general, great with a couple of Jitte in the deck, and we can imagine even greater with 4 Jitte and 4 Honor of the Pure. The tension between Gaddock Teeg and Spectral Procession should not lead to the conclusion “Cut the processions for Teegs and we’ll be Teeg-proof and ready to go.” Procession is simply too important. It gives you another number for Explosives to hit (0) which is a relevant benefit, and it dodges most Firespouts. It isn’t impossible to figure out whether you need Teeg out, and play accordingly. Against Scapeshift, Dredge, and Tezz, you usually don’t NEED to Spectral until they deal with the Teeg, especially with 4 Jitte to slap on him and make them do something.

Kitchen Finks is the more cuttable of the 3 drops, but they also do a lot. When the opponent is playing the “I’m not going to let you keep a Jitte target” game, they have to kill Finks twice and you’re 4 life richer in the process. It persists through a Wrath, giving you a ready Jitte-equipped attacker. The Meadowgrain / Finks / Jitte package gives you a good chance to get high enough to be out of Scapeshift for 7 range and a puncher’s chance to be out of Scapeshift for 8 range. Costing 3 mana is the main drawback with the Finks. When your deck has enough 2s and 1s, every mana starts to matter as you can quickly start casting 2 spells per turn. Every 3-drop you include takes away some of this potential. On balance, casting a Finks is close enough to casting 2 spells in terms of power level that I am hesitant to cut them. That said, as soon as the metagame for sure shades really heavily towards Scapeshift, Tez, and Dredge, I’m looking to replace the Finks with Teegs or Meddling Mages.

THE SPELLS

4 Jitte isn’t really too many, despite what you might think at first glance. We COULD play something like 3 Steelshaper’s Gift, 2 Jitte, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice, but it just adds some clunkiness in exchange for a little flexibility we don’t really need. An adventurous deckbuilder might try 4 Steelshaper’s Gift, 1 Jitte, 2 Sword of the Meek, with 4 Thopter Foundry also in the deck. This doesn’t strike me as something likely to be effective, but it isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility. You could even get Meddling Mages and/or Spell Snares into the deck since you’d already have the Blue mana. This is usually the point in the conversation when Patrick Chapin tells me “Why aren’t you just playing Tezzeret Thopter?” and I sulk back into my cave, defeated. Let’s stay with 4 Jitte for the time being to keep Chapin off my back. (on a related but more serious note, creative enterprises like deckbuilding are benefitted tremendously by having a good brain to bounce ideas off. Chapin’s brain has bounced countless ideas of mine right back to square 1, and I’m very thankful for this service he provides. When Chapin eventually does see the potential in an idea, he takes it the next several steps faster and better than anyone.)

4 Honor of the Pure could be trimmed to 2 or 3 if you’re looking to trim to add something like the Steelshaper’s Gift package, but I’m fine with 4 if you’re not.

4 Path to Exile let us continue to battle when they cast Baneslayer and give us some flexibility with guys of our own to Path and make Steppe Lynx lethal. You would have to really have your finger on the pulse of a metagame that was shifting away from creatures to cut Path, but I wouldn’t be shocked if 1 or 2 got cut in such a circumstance.

Other options for spells:
Spell Pierce
Spell Snare
Mana Leak
Ajani Goldmane
Unmake
Thoughtsize/Tidehollow Sculler
-Thopter/Sword/Steelshaper’s Gift (see above)
-Steelshaper’s Gift (with just Jittes and a SOFI, see above)
Celestial Purge (sideboarded currently)
Brave the Elements (starts to look very attractive when we add Teegs and/or Meddling Mages because we expect they are game-over cards vs certain decks, and we know it’ll be fine vs the other decks that try to Bolt/Firespout our guys)
-Harm’s Way (likely plays like a narrower Brave the Elements, but worth thinking about)

THE LANDS

1 Emeria is what stands out here. Is it really better than a Plains, Mutavault, or Rustic Clachan? I doubt it. I’m replacing this with a Clachan, a card I like having 1 of. Let me know in the comments if you think Emeria deserves another shot.

2 Mutavault seems correct. 4 Jitte makes man lands valuable, but the amount of White mana you need to cast your spells can make Mutavault, and especially the second and third ones you draw, a dead draw.

Lynx wants 8 fetch lands.

THE SIDEBOARD

Here is what Paul sleeved up (ok fine, “clicked up”) in the MODO event:

4 Baneslayer Angel
4 Celestial Purge
4 Stillmoon Cavalier
3 Burrenton Forge-Tender

Stillmoon Cavalier doesn’t do enough in the current Extended; he should be out. Baneslayers do so much vs any aggressive deck that I want at least 3 of those. Celestial Purge is an interesting choice; it kills the Hellspark Elementals and Demigods of Revenge you’d expect it to, but it also exiles a Thopter Foundry. Still, I think we can do better. Burrenton Forge-Tender provides another Jitte body that can’t be killed by Bolts, and also counters Firespouts. Bringing in this and Baneslayer will mean the Mono-Red burn deck shouldn’t be a problem, even if Knight of Meadowgrain becomes Gaddock Teeg in the maindeck. So our sideboard looks like this so far: 4 Baneslayer Angel, 3 Burrenton Forge-Tender. With 8 slots to work with, here are some options:

Gaddock Teeg (if not maindeck)
Samurai of the Pale Curtain
Ethersworn Canonist/Silence/Chalice of the Void (I’m ok with leaving the Hypergenesis matchup alone, bad as it may be, so I don’t think I’ll use these)
Spell Pierce
Spell Snare
Mana Leak
Meddling Mage
Brave the Elements (boarding up to 4 Gaddock Teeg and/or some number of Meddling Mages won’t do that much good if a Firespout sends us packing. Forge-tender provides some protection but more is better, especially against Scapeshift, a deck that can dig to find Firespouts)
Fracturing Gust (oh, hi thopter tokens)
Tormod’s Crypt/Relic of Progenitus
Naturalize/Seal of Primordium
Kitchen Finks (to the extent we run less than 4 main)
Kataki, War’s Wage
True Believer (narrow answer to Scapeshift, and incomplete answer since they can sometimes just kill all your guys and win that way).
-4th Soltari Priest (if 3 main)

Since I like 3 Teegs maindeck, I’ll put the remaining Teeg in the board, along with 3 Forge-Tender to protect them from Firespouts. Samurai of the Pale curtain just doesn’t get me as excited as Meddling Mage, but maybe I have an irrational level of respect for the Scapeshift deck. Now that I have Blue for Meddling Mage, I want to try a couple in the maindeck and a couple sideboarded, just to hedge against the matchups I’m afraid aren’t favorable. Spell Pierce in the board strikes me as a good 1-of or 2-of. It’ll be either impossible or incorrect for the opponent to play around it, and if I ever hit a Harrow or Firespout, a Wrath or Gifts, etc. it will put me way ahead. For now I’ll try:

HOW I WOULD SIDEBOARD:

Vs. Mono Red Burn

+4 Baneslayer, +3 Forge Tender, +2 Brave the Elements, +1 Kitchen Finks
-3 Teeg, -2 Meddling Mage, -1 Honor of the Pure, -4 Path to Exile

Vs. Zoo

+4 Baneslayer, +1 Kitchen Finks, +3 Forge Tender
-3 Teeg, -2 Meddling Mage, -3 Isamaru

Vs. Scapeshift

+2 Meddling Mage, +1 Teeg, +3 Forge Tender, +2 Brave the Elements, +2 Spell Pierce
-4 Path to Exile, -4 Spectral Procession, -1 Kitchen Finks, -1 Jitte (3 Jitte is ok I think; they prevent the 1/1s from chump blocking as much, and can speed up the clock on a Priest).

Vs. Tezzeret Thopter Sword

+2 Meddling Mage, +1 Teeg, +2 Brave the Elements, +2 Spell Pierce (+3 forge tender if they have red for firespout)
-4 Path to Exile, -2 Spectral Procession, -2 Jitte, -2 Kitchen Finks (if they aren’t Red you can keep in Finks since they’ll have Wraths instead of Spouts).

Vs. Dredge

+2 Meddling Mage, +1 Teeg, +2 Brave the Elements, +2 Spell Pierce
-3 Spectral Procession, -3 Kitchen Finks, -1 Jitte

Hopefully the rest you can figure out based on the above.

So: Have I strayed too far from Rietzl’s original list? Am I just too afraid of Dredge and Scapeshift? Let me know in the comments, and have fun tinkering with the deck.