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Careful Consideration – The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

 

States, States, blah blah, States. I’ve been playing nonstop on Magic Online this week preparing for States, and I’ve broken the format:

Play Jund.

Seriously, that’s the only deck to play if you want to win. Decks that beat Jund don’t beat it as often as you think they do, and decks that have a 50/50 matchup with Jund are actually huge underdogs. And if you say, “Oh, my deck has a bad matchup against Jund but has a good matchup against the rest of the field,” you might as well save your money and stay home and watch TV.

I’ve provided this handy flowchart to help you figure this out:

 

Even decks like Gerry’s Spreading Seas deck can run into problems with Jund. Initially I thought it was a bye, but after both playing against the deck with Jund and playing against Jund decks with the Spread ‘Em deck, Jund can win by sandbagging a Forest or Swamp and Maelstrom Pulse, playing a Verdant Catacombs and not cracking it. Then they can just untap, crack the fetchland, play the basic, Pulse the Spreading Seas or Convincing Mirage, and they have access to their colors again. Even if you can make one of their lands an Island again, they now have multiple lands that produce the colors they need and can start playing Putrid Leech or Bloodbraid Elf. Some decks are even running Borderland Ranger or Rampant Growth, which makes things even more awkward.

(It’s not a bad matchup, but it’s not unloseable either.)

So while Standard generally wants to make me want to set myself on fire, I want to think about happier things.

Yes, it’s that time

It’s less than a month away, and I look forward to it each year. The mere anticipation of it gets me giddy, thinking about waking up in the morning, gleefully awaiting the joys that lie ahead. Of course how can you sleep the night before, what with the excitement that’s soon to come?

That’s right. Extended PTQ season starts in January!

Jeremy’s article this week touched a little on the format, but I want to go more into depth with it and take a different approach.

If you weren’t immersed in the coverage from Austin or the Extended portions from Rome, don’t fret. Let’s take a look and see what the format’s done since the last PTQs in April. Onslaught and 8th Edition rotated out, so the format is all sets between Mirrodin and Zendikar. Aether Vial, Disciple of the Vault, Skullclamp, and Sensei’s Divining Top are banned.

Key losses:

 

 

Onslaught fetchlands would have been on the list, but with the Zendikar fetchlands taking their place, it’s essentially a wash. Some decks have slightly better mana, and some have worse, but it’s not a huge difference either way.

The rotation means that entire decks became unplayable, like TEPS and Death Cloud (as Life from the Loam plus cycling lands remove that particular engine). Riptide Laboratory changed the control decks, as the previous blue decks no longer had the late game of Riptide Laboratory and Wizards like Venser and Spellstutter Sprite. Elves is not really a deck without key parts of its engine, or at least it didn’t surface in any new form in Austin or Rome in any significant way.

Another thing to consider is the change in M10 rules, which affects Affinity more than any other deck. I saw a Meddling Mage trade with a Frogmite with a 1/1 Arcbound Ravager on the board, and the poor Ravager remained a 1/1. Under the old rules, of course, the Affinity player could simply sacrifice the Frogmite to his robot overlord with damage on the stack and make the Ravager a 2/2. Instead, he just went to the graveyard with barely a whimper. Tough times have fallen on what was once a dominant deck.

More importantly, let’s look at the additions since the last PTQ season, when Conflux was the most recent set:

Key additions:

 

 

The thing I love about Extended is that every deck does something that’s unfair. The card pool is pretty large, so decks can warp themselves into doing insanely powerful things, but because the answers in the format are equally strong, no one strategy can take over, because we have the tools provided to us to stop them.

Though I generally advocate taking a deck and sticking with it, Extended often doesn’t work out that way. Powerful linear strategies like TEPS or Combo Elves or Plasma Swans would be great for one tournament, but people can eventually change their sideboards to deal with your strategy. So even if you’re playing the deck perfectly, the deck choice can be wrong for any given tournament. This isn’t the case in formats like current Standard (see the flowchart at the top of this article) or Lorwyn Block (where the best solution was to take the PV route and play Faeries all the time, every time).

So where to start with the format? The first thing is to know what each deck is and how it’s being unfair. Bear with me if some of this was covered by Mr. Fuentes. We’ll get to some new material in a bit.

The metagame consists of essentially eight different major archetypes:

Zoo by Brian Kibler

How is it unfair?

Zoo decks generally play cheap efficient creatures. Wild Nacatl is a one-mana 3/3, Tarmogoyf is a two-mana 3/4, and so on. Some Zoo decks play Kird Ape or Steppe Lynx, but they’re all doing basically the same thing. Play creatures, attack, and burn people to death.

Zoo seems like the “fairest” of the major archetypes, but a 3/3 for one mana isn’t exactly fair. Kibler’s deck takes advantage of the Grove of the Burnwillows/Punishing Fire interaction, making for a good card advantage engine.

How do I beat it?
Mass removal like Engineered Explosives or even Wrath of God.
Racing with a faster combo or putting on a faster clock.
Cards like Martyr of Sands in a dedicated life gain strategy.
Blood Moon or Magus of the Moon. Yes, Kibler did run his own Blood Moons in the board, but when you play your mana disruption, you dictate when the Blood Moon comes down, so you can set up for it by having the proper basic lands in play. When they Moon you before you can prepare for it, it’s actually quite devastating in a three-color deck like Zoo.

Hypergenesis Combo by Evangelos Papatsarouchas

 

How is it unfair?
The deck plays a cascade spell (Demonic Dread, Violent Outburst, Ardent Plea) that always hits Hypergenesis, at which point both players can empty their hands of their permanents, but the Hypergenesis deck plays so many insane ridiculous awesome creatures that the other player’s lowly Tarmogoyfs are staring at a Progenitus or some other giant fattie and the game’s quickly over.

How do I beat it?
Chalice of the Void set to zero.
Ethersworn Canonist prevents them from playing the second spell off cascade (the one you care about, [card]Hypergenesis[/card]).
Blood Moon.
Meddling Mage.
Hand disruption like Thoughtseize or Duress.
Counterspelling their Hypergenesis.

Dredge by Yuuya Watanabe

How is it unfair?

Dredge plays free spells by putting creatures into play without paying their mana costs, like Narcomoeba and Bloodghast. With Dread Return in their graveyard, they can sacrifice the creatures to get tokens from Bridge from Below and then set up a big turn where their creatures get haste with Flame-Kin Zealot. Iona shuts off a color and attacks as well, removing hate options.

How do I beat it?
Graveyard hate like Leyline of the Void, Ravenous Trap, Yixlid Jailer, Tormod’s Crypt, Relic of Progenitus and Extirpate. This is a very linear deck so narrow graveyard hate answers are powerful here. Dredge’s sideboard is mostly there to combat the hate, so don’t think you can just plop down a Leyline of the Void and he’ll scoop ’em up. But disrupt them and apply some pressure and you’re usually good.

All-In Red by Bendikt Klauser

 

How is it unfair?
The deck uses rituals to power out an early turn one or two play like Deus of Calamity or Demigod of Revenge. Or against multicolor decks, a turn one Blood Moon can essentially turn off their entire deck, leaving them unable to cast anything while you goldfish your deck.

How do I beat it?
The deck is called “All-In Red” for a reason. They use a lot of card disadvantage to play a bunch of rituals and get an early spell. If you Path to Exile their turn one Deus of Calamity that they used five cards to power out, they are often left with no resources and no cards in hand. The crazy nutty draws are pretty crazy and nutty, but it’s a very high risk, high reward deck.

The other way is if you have a two- or three-mana answer like Oblivion Ring or Celestial Purge in your hand, you can still survive a turn one Deus of Calamity by playing fetchlands and not cracking them. When the Deus trigger goes on the stack, they have to target one of your fetchlands, which you sacrifice in response, then the next turn you can sac your other fetchland and take care of the problem. Or throwing a chump blocker like Wild Nacatl in front of the creature also keeps them from blowing up your lands, allowing you to develop your manabase enough to play the answer you need.

You take a ton of damage this way, but once the threat is off the table, they often cannot recover and you can claw back into the game.

Dark Depths Combo by Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

 

How is it unfair?
The deck uses the combo of Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths
to make an indestructible flying 20/20, often on turn two (and rarely on turn one). The rest of the deck is built around protecting the combo and disrupting their opponent’s answers like Path to Exile.

How do I beat it?
Kill the token. You can’t destroy it, but you can remove it from the game. Path to Exile is the most efficient, but the deck is usually ready for that, playing Chalice of the Void with two counters on it. Because of that, two-mana answers like Celestial Purge and Otherworldly Journey serve the same purpose while getting around Chalice of the Void.
Bounce like Repeal, Echoing Truth, or even Cryptic Command.
Blood Moon. Dark Depths is much less impressive as a Mountain.
Any land destruction. Ghost Quarter is by far the best, as cards like Molten Rain cannot be played in response to the Vampire Hexmage ability.
Meddling Mage naming Vampire Hexmage.
Chump blockers like Spectral Procession to block the 20/20 (as it doesn’t have trample) buy you enough time to deal with the situation. A one-turn clock now becomes a four-turn clock.
Threads of Disloyalty. Nice token. Mind if I take it? Nom nom nom.
Hand disruption like Thoughtseize or Vendilion Clique, although neither of them gets Dark Depths. I prefer more resilient approaches.
Pithing Needle on Vampire Hexmage.
Ancient Grudge to deal with the Chalice of the Void that’s stopping your Path to Exile, or to kill up the Pithing Needle on your Ghost Quarter. They have to have answers to your answers, so if you have answers to the answers to your answers, they need to have an answer to your answers to the answers to your answers, or your win will go unanswered.

Tezzeret Control by Luis Scott-Vargas

 

[deck]

I chose LSV’s decklist over David Ochoa’s because, well, LSV wrote an article about it and Ocho didn’t.

How is it unfair?
The deck uses a lot of disruption, card advantage, and permission to set up and protect the Sword of the Meek/Thopter Foundry combo, which generates millions of 1/1 flying tokens for the win. Or sometimes it can just go Tezzeret ultimate beatdown.

How do I beat it?
This is a pretty resilient deck, but artifact disruption seems to be the best way. Ancient Grudge is probably the best card, but heavy artifact disruption like Fracturing Gust might work as well.
Gaddock Teeg also fits in as a good sideboard card, as it shuts off their Wrath effects, as well as Engineered Explosives and Gifts Ungiven.

This deck in its current incarnation is fairly new, so there may be better ways to attack it, but it’s one of the most resilient decks in the format.

Note the lack of Affinity; the deck has fallen completely off the table and in fact did not put up a single 5-1 finish or better in Rome. Anecdotally, everyone I talked to in Austin who played Affinity wanted to gouge their eyes out with sharp sticks some time around round four.

So what now?

Extended provides for a ton of room for innovation, and there are lots of ways to sneak up on the format that have yet to be discovered. Going through old Standard decklists looking for deck ideas is not a bad place to start, as you can sometimes find powerful strategies that people have forgotten about.

What you don’t want to do is get caught by the crossfire. For example, an Urzatron deck would be under the radar, but because so many people have Ghost Quarter in their boards for the Dark Depths matchup, Tron suddenly is vulnerable. Similarly, a deck that utilizes the graveyard in some way is going to run into the graveyard hate that already exists for the Dredge decks.

If you can build a deck that gets around the following hate cards, or can effectively answer them, you have broken the format:

 

A combo like Pyromancer’s Swath/Grapeshot that has enough spot removal to kill any Meddling Mages that come your way might be a great early PTQ deck, or Tooth and Nail to power out an insta-win. Jon Loucks won a PTQ last year with Kiki-Jiki/Pestermite combo and surprised the field with it. Maybe a deck like Enduring Ideal might work if it can have sufficient answers to the hate cards. There are a lot of weird quirky janky-looking combos yet to be discovered.

Just whatever you do, don’t play a fair deck. Rock builds are fair and they’re really bad at winning PTQs. If your goal is to top eight but have no realistic chance of winning the PTQ, then Rock might be the way to go. You have access to insanely strong strategies; use them!

I cannot wait to start PTQing it up with the Ravnica dual lands, especially now that we’re having PTQs on Magic Online. It’s like Christmas, but it lasts four months. How can you go wrong with that?

Yours Extendedly,
-Zaiem

zaiemb at gmail dot com
zbeg on Twitter

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