I wanted to start this article with a rack of “dust off your old cards and get ready for Extended!” rhetoric. Unfortunately, them whole 10 Extended decks in 10 days thing has already been going for a while, rendering such an intro useless. What I’m left with is this jumbled, babbly kind of thing that’s neither here nor there, but I think it got the general point across that this is part of the Extended series.
My assignment has ended up easy and difficult at the same time: something Rogue and Black. This means that I have the greatest freedom to design my deck, but leaves my options so wide-open I hardly know where to begin. Like I’ve mentioned previously, I have little experience with the sets post-Saga and pre-Onslaught; to compensate I’ve spent a large amount of time crunching through spoilers to get a feel for them. I did each block twice before moving to the next, and it was a grind.
After looking at the sets themselves, I knew that one thing I wanted was versatility. There were so many good cards, and good decks as evidenced by the wide-open Top 8 of Columbus and then Boston this weekend, that I needed a malleable strategy. My first thought was to play a bullets-style deck with the search capabilities of Vampiric Tutor, but the field is just too large to fit more than a few bullets, and they were all too narrow. My original Mono-Black build added Blue for card-drawing, and then tried Red for Fire / Ice and Flametongue Kavu.
However, each deck I built lacked cohesion. Furthermore, the mana-base of the B/U/r version was atrocious. That was when I stumbled across this deck, played at Columbus by StarCityGames’ own feature writer and pro Tim Aten:
4 Meddling Mage
4 Shadowmage Infiltrator
3 Exalted Angel
3 Diabolic Edict
2 Vampiric Tutor
2 Deep Analysis
1 Rend Flesh
1 Cranial Extraction
1 Dromar’s Charm
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Damping Matrix
1 Tsabo’s Web
1 Chrome Mox
This was not the only Dump Truck build present at Columbus, however. There were two fairly distinct versions, Aten’s and another which featured more weenies in the form of Spectral Lynx and Mesmeric Fiend to apply extra early pressure and disruption. My instincts were that the creature-heavy build wouldn’t be as effective, and I was correct for several reasons. Mesmeric Fiend is really a “win-more” card in that it only affects your good matchups and is worse against your bad matchups. Furthermore, if you wanted to play beatdown (this is a slight misnomer, as it’s more an aggro-control hybrid) there are more effective decks like Goblins or Affinity. While Parallax Wave is some good, it doesn’t make up for the deficiencies created by adding additional (sub-par) creatures to the deck.
At heart, Dump Truck is a control deck. It wins through delaying your opponent, preventing him from playing his bombs, and keeping him from achieving any sort of critical mass. Though you will not often place your opponent in “block or die” type situations, the gradual card advantage you accrue will force them into the worst possible use of their own resources as they struggle to keep up.
With this in mind, I made a couple of changes to this original build, replacing the Brainstorms with Mana Leaks and removing the bullets for stuff like Powder Keg. The changes I made were to improve both consistency and specific matchups that I felt were difficult. I also added a couple of additional Chrome Moxen to speed it up and to add un-Rishadan-Port-able mana sources.
The build that I ended up with has been playing much better for me. The removal of the bullets make for much easier to manage hands, and no dead cards. After hours of testing I settled on this build, and then used it to complete the rest of the practice games and rate each matchup:
Dizzump Truck (the remix)
4 Meddling Mage
4 Shadowmage Infiltrator
3 Exalted Angel
4 Mana Leak
3 Vampiric Tutor
3 Chrome Mox
3 Fact or Fiction
3 Powder Keg
2 Engineered Plague
I feel that this version plugs some of the major holes that had been exposed in my early testing, notably getting bashed by armies of weenies or certain two-mana artifacts. It has a versatile mix of disruption, from Duress to Meddling Mage to Mana Leak, and can deal with stuff on-board with spot removal. Remember, the strategy is simple: keep your opponent from doing what they want to do until you can bury them in massive card advantage. Then a pretty life-gaining lady comes in to close the deal. It’s a shame that the hottest cardboard chicks are the chaste ones.
On to the matchups! I have selected five from the gauntlet that you can expect to face at any given Extended tournament. The ratings are simple: Terrible, Bad, Fair, Good, Excellent. First up:
Dump Truck does well against focused decks and this one is no exception. Their only goal is to lock you under the two namesake cards; if they succeed, you can’t win the first game, but you’ve got a lot of tools to keep them from doing so.
Most of the time, Dump Truck wins by attacking a deck’s early game plan, which in some cases is all that exists in Extended. You’ll never be able to out-counter them, but if you can sneak underneath their defenses with a quick Meddling Mage or Powder Keg, it’s going to be good times. Duress is an all-star here, knocking out an Orim’s Chant or a counter for only one mana, or giving you a chance to do something else on your turn after they’ve burned their untapped mana to save their combo piece. If they go for the lock too early, you will absolutely punish them: they cannot recoup the card disadvantage of a busted Scepter.
Shadowmage Infiltrator is a total house in this matchup, as he’s unblockable and doesn’t cost any mana to grab you a card. You have enough must-counter threats in Powder Keg and Meddling Mage that you should be able to sneak one in. One of the keys to this matchup is that you cannot succumb to The Fear – play your Shadowmage on the second turn with a Chrome Mox against their single untapped Island; it’s important that you get your card advantage engine going quickly and most builds only run two Force Spikes.
One situation where you may need to worry: mid-game and they’ve got three or four cards in hand. You’ve got a Meddling Mage set on Scepter or Chant. They will Cunning Wish for Boomerang and bounce your guy EOT, then play the combo out with activation mana ready. Try to save a Mana Leak for this eventuality.
The only thing they have to side against you is Wrath of God, so be careful about overextending your critters since they are so important. After sideboarding, you have a way out of the lock, as you can Vampiric Tutor for a Disenchant and then play it in response to them activating the Scepter during your upkeep. Extract Orim’s Chant and you’re looking at good times, but beware them using Cunning Wish for the last one.
There are two versions of Gobbos running around and they play very differently. Hopefully there will continue to be two different versions, because if everyone decides that the Vial version is better, it is going to be very bad times for Dump Truck. Since Flores has been writing about how nasty the Vial is (which would be “very nasty”), expect this matchup to be absolutely awful.
If you’re not already aware of how one measly four-of can change a matchup from the best a deck has to the worst, you need to go back and read the history of Aether Vial. Basically, it invalidates your most potent strategy: Meddling Mage disruption. In the Ruel version, you can stop Goblins from playing its most devastating beater, Goblin Piledriver. Or, if you’re holding Vindicate, you can name Goblin Warchief and then nail the Piledriver when it comes into play. The point is you have a defense that slows down the Goblin player to the point where you can draw or tutor for your Engineered Plagues.
That is the Achilles’ heel of the Goblin deck: it cannot deal with Engineered Plague. If you get out both of them (which happened a surprising amount of the time in my tests – but like michaelj says, there is a smallish n of test games) there is virtually nothing they can do. A single Meddling Mage can put them back far enough that you can set up however you like. Furthermore, the vast majority of the Goblin decks run at Columbus were lacking Dralnu’s Crusade in the side.
Another problem that the Goblin decks runs into is the frequency with which it has to mulligan: the preponderance of three-, four-, and five-mana spells means that a lot of times they get really slow hands or end up pitching them back. The Aether Vial version is not as prone to those types of deficiencies in addition to circumventing your disruption and even your sideboard plans of Chill.
They’re probably going to side in their Pyroclasms and Cave-ins, so don’t over-extend with your Meddling Mages. They might also add additional hand-destruction in the form of Duress to try and knock out your Plagues.
When you are playing against the Vial version, you will know if they have it right away since they will play it first. If they drop the Vial, you should name Warchief with Meddling Mage; that way they need to go to three counters to get one out, meaning you get a turn to cope with Piledrivers or can even lock them out with a second Mage (barring a second Vial, or course).
Versus U/B: Excellent
Versus U/W: Good
For a good primer on how to fight combo decks like this one, read Chad Ellis‘ recent article about the Scarce Resource. It describes succinctly the issues that determine what to use your disruption against.
Like the Scepter-Chant deck from above, the Mind’s Desire deck requires very specific components in order to win, and Dump Truck is able to deny them those things. You have far more disruption than they can handle, featuring Duress and Meddling Mage first and foremost, plus Mana Leak and Vindicate to a lesser degree. As long as you keep them from their namesake spell, whether it’s through mana denial or Meddling Magery, you will win.
The U/W version is better against you for several reasons. First off, Sunscape Familiar can block Meddling Mage, slowing your clock and giving them time to topdeck an answer in the form of Cunning Wish. While Nightscape Familiar can block your Shadowmage Infiltrators, they only run two and it means they need to topdeck to finish the combo. The U/W version is not as vulnerable to Engineered Plague, which effectively lowers the amount of cost-reducers in the U/b deck to four Sapphire Medallions.
My first Meddling Mage is usually set on Snap, because to name anything else still allows them to use Snap as a mana-producer and storm-enabler while removing your restrictions during their critical turn. The second card I’ll name is either Accumulated Knowledge, Cunning Wish, or occasionally Mind’s Desire, depending on how much mana they’ve played. Powder Keg set on two can be good if you play it early, giving you an extra turn by removing a cost-reducer.
Red Deck Wins
Matchup Rating: Bad
The good news is that you don’t have to deal with Aether Vial; the bad news is, you have to deal with first-turn two-power creatures backed up by re-useable burn in the form of Cursed Scroll. None of the cards in RDW are much more important than the others, and this unilateral strategy means your Meddling Mages are less than spectacular. Even if you do manage to hit with a MM, stranding something good in their hand, they will Magma Jet it, Scroll it, Firebolt it… you get the picture, it’s not going to stick around for long.
Another problem for you is the mana denial. If you’ve kept a land-light hand and you can’t draw any, color screw becomes a difficult problem. They will repeatedly tap your Islands during your upkeep to keep you off of blockers and card-draw in the form of Shadowmage. They will also Wasteland you relentlessly. Finally, if you’re playing against the Nakamura version, they have added mana-screw in the form of Pillage. To sum up, they have faster critters and keep you from playing spells, burning away anything you can muster.
You do have one chance and that’s Powder Keg. Every permanent they have costs one mana, so a second-turn Keg makes enemy Jackal Pups and Mogg Fanatics drink themselves to an early grave. It’s more fun than fraternity hazing, and you’ll leave the match without Greek letters branded onto your buttocks! Sometimes you can also stall out some quick beatings by going two-for-one with an Engineered Plague; if they are packing cards in hand and you play a Plague proactively, name Cat to relegate Blistering Firecat to morph-only status; another good one to name is Wizard for Grim Lavamancer. Try to save Vindicates for Cursed Scroll.
One way you can squeeze out a win is by going for a quick, morphed-up Exalted Angel. This is kind of a desperation play however, as they have a lot of ways to burn it out before you can untap. If you succeed, you’ll probably win, but don’t get cocky once she hits the table: I lost a game in testing after I started smashing and gaining life, only to lose to triple Blistering Firecat one turn after another after another.
After sideboarding things go a bit better for you, as they are forced to use their available mana to cast spells rather than using it to tap yours. If you can get out Sphere of Law you render a large portion of their deck moot, meaning only Blistering Firecat, Volcanic Hammer and Cursed Scroll can hurt you, so be aggressive in putting it on the table.
Rating: Worse than Terrible
This matchup is basically “see Aether Vial Goblins” from above, except worse. That’s because it’s much faster and you don’t have many outs due a term called Artifact Creature, i.e., you can’t just plop down two Engineered Plagues and say oops I win. Your spot removal is less effective since Affinity can move its counters around and they have their own disruption in the form of Meddling Mage and Cabal Therapy. All of this spells quite a bad matchup.
There are just too many problems pre-board for you to post a better than awful win percentage. For example, Cranial Plating. That card is a ridiculous beating and there’s really nothing you can do about it besides using Vindicate, which takes a turn forcing you to eat some damage anyway. Even if they get a slow start, you’re still not going to be drawing many cards as Shadowmage Infiltrators can be easily chumped by artifact critters.
There is hope, however. Powder Keg is quite effective on either zero (take out their lands), one (Arcbound Worker, Disciple of the Vault, Aether Vial, Chromatic Sphere), or two (Meddling Mage, Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating). If you can manage to get enough card advantage (a three-for-one might do it), or stop an all-in on a Blinkmoth Nexus with Smother, you can pull it out.
I originally had Energy Flux in the side, but Serenity has proven to be much more effective as it is a one-sided Obliterate. Adding in the Arcane Laboratory is basically removing one ineffective card for a slightly more effective one, as it can stop them from having those ridiculous Frog, Frog, Thoughtcast, Enforcer, Thoughtcast, etc. etc. turns.
They don’t have much to bring in against you after siding, so the match improves slightly for games two and three (improves to Bad, anyway). Disenchant gives you some additional instant-speed tricks to work with.
While I thought that Dump Truck would own this matchup, it can go either way depending on a couple of factors. Meddling Mage can only hold them back for a limited amount of time, so you need to seal the game as fast as possible. Reanimator is redundant enough that a single Mage isn’t going to do it; whatever you name, they’ve got multiple other ways to get their fatty to the ‘yard and back. Between their four-ofs and Vampiric Tutors, they have a good chance at getting what they need.
The good thing is that they tend to burn through their resources rather quickly and end up living off the top. Furthermore, they run a scant 17 lands and some Chrome Mox; if you speed them along with a Duress and counter a key spell, it will be difficult for them to recover the loss of cards in hand as well as tempo.
A lot of what this match comes down to is whether or not they draw Akroma, Angel of Wrath. You can deal with Rorix through a Vindicate, but Akroma’s protection from black gives you a very difficult game. Once she hits the table you don’t have any recourse before sideboarding. Another thing to watch out for is Sickening Dreams; you need to play your Mages out ASAP, but if they find this card they’ll wreck your defenses.
The sideboard changes are very obvious: Gilded Drake to steal their fatty or Cranial Extraction to strip their deck of Akromas. I left in the Engineered Plague because it can lock them out of Putrid Imp until they reach threshold, and I left in a couple of Powder Kegs since they can take out Imps and any Chrome Moxen they may have played.
As I’m rapidly approaching the too-long limit, I’m going to end here. My final thought on Dump Truck as an archetype is that it is a difficult deck to play well.* Not as difficult as Affinity, mind you, but difficult nonetheless as you are forced to make hard decisions and must balance getting your opponent to zero and your often tenuous control of the board. You will almost never feel like you have the game in a stranglehold and breathe audible sighs of relief when you finally deal the last few points of damage.
It is best suited against a very specific and defined metagame, where the disruption will play a much more effective role. In the current wide-open status of Extended, I probably would not bring Dump Truck to a tournament if I wanted to be competitive. However, if you expect a particularly Combo- and Control-heavy field… back it on up!
John Matthew Upton
I like back, feed me!
Jmumoo CAN BE FOUND AT yahoo DOT com
* It will be a lot easier to play if you have people out scouting for you, because that way your game 1 Meddling Mages will be much more effective.