Currently I’m in the sort of weird space where there are no big tournaments coming up. The next event I’ll be going to is SCG Open: Seattle in three
weeks, and all the cards for it aren’t even spoiled yet. In these magical doldrums, I was wondering what to do, and then I saw Gavin Verhey article
on Overextended (all the sets after the Reserve List available on MODO) and the Tuesday tournaments he’s been holding. This, I thought, was pretty
exciting: a brand new format to explore!
Ever since Wizards announced Modern (all cards in the modern card frame) as part of the Community Cup a few weeks back, I have been pumped about the
idea of a new Eternal format. Legacy and Vintage are all well and good, but they seem fundamentally limited by the Reserve List and related card costs.
I also think that their power levels are pretty high, and I am interested in playing decks with a lower power level, but still higher than Standard.
Essentially, old Extended was my favorite format until they cancelled it, and I’ve been hoping ever since for a fun middle ground to replace it.
Overextended fits the bill just as well as Modern in my book, and I am pretty stoked to get to play either.
Last week on Monday I decided I was going to throw together a deck to play in the next day’s Overextended tourney. (Gavin runs them at 9:30 AM and 5:30
PM PST on Tuesday, info on MTGOverextended.com.) I didn’t have a lot of time to test. I knew I was just going
to have to choose a deck based on one that I was very familiar with, which meant Zoo or Wizards, and update it as best I could. Since I am very
attracted to both Stoneforge Mystic and Riptide Laboratory (it has such smooth curves), I decided that I was going to work with a Wizards shell and see
how it went. I also thought that playing a deck with a lot of generic counters was going to be a solid plan in an unknown environment. Essentially, if
I could guess what my opponent was up to, I could probably stop it.
To build my deck, I decided the fastest way would be to look at a few decks from the past that employed the same strategy and make card choices based
on what seemed to work in those.
Going back a few years in Magic’s history, Gabriel Nassif built one of the most successful decks in its format, which he played in PT Berlin. His
mono-blue Faeries deck had a great matchup against the 5000-pound gorilla of the tournament: Elves. At Worlds, the pros who chose to play his deck had
a fantastic win percentage, and the deck would go on to be one of the pillars of the PTQ format, vying with Zoo for the crown of the entire 2009
Fundamentally, the deck sought to use countermagic and Engineered Explosives to contain/slow an opponent’s early game, and then to lock them out in the
long run with Riptide Laboratory/Wizards and/or Vedalken Shackles/Jitte. Basically, whether you were spells or creatures, this deck presented a hard
road for you.
Last Extended season, I saw an opportunity to hybridize the Stoneforge Mystic decks people were playing, with some lessons I learned from playing
Nassif-style decks in 2009. I published a note on Facebook; LSV made a few tweaks, and several people went on to win blue envelopes and Top 8 GPs and
such with versions of it:
The most interesting thing about this deck, in my mind, was how well Faeries picked up swords. Before I’d worked on this, I’d found a lot of Bant lists
to be frustrating because your opponent could buy a lot of time by just chumping with dudes off-color from your protections. You often couldn’t really
afford to tap out for Sword of Feast and Famine unless you were going to connect and untap, and flying bodies were just perfect for this. Spellstutter
Sprite and Vendilion Clique were also very good at protecting a sword-equip play, further reinforcing their ascendency as swordsmen.
With the printing of New Phyrexia, the Legacy scene was quite shaken up by the printing of Mental Misstep. Gerry Thompson and Drew Levin built some
mono-blue control decks, which they rode to the top of SCG Open: Orlando, leveraged largely on the fact that blue decks now had a critical mass of
answers to problematic one-drops, even on the draw:
Gerry writes about his deck in his article Breaking Both Formats, and it is pretty
recent, so I won’t spend much time talking about why it is good. The most important things to note for me were that the Shackles were cut from almost
everyone’s lists; many hybridized the deck with Stoneforge Mystic; and Ancestral Visions eventually replaced Standstill in most lists.
Armed with these lists from past formats, I sat down to concoct my Overextended list. I’ll first share the list that I put together, and then explain
the card selection:
18 Colored Lands –
This is the part of the deck I am least happy with. There is a tension between being able to play Vedalken Shackles, being able to cast Cryptic
Command, being able to cast Wrath of God, and having options on Path to Exile as a white fixer, etc. Right now the deck is slightly shy on casting WW
and UUU for my tastes, but I’m trying to see how often it bites me because the payoff for the colorless lands is so high… I’d play more dual lands
and cut the Plains and Vedalken Shackles before I cut a single colorless land. I definitely wouldn’t want any more fetchlands (I wish I had slightly
fewer), since the damage from your lands can add up pretty quickly. Once again, it’s possible the mana base would just be better with more painless
duals and possibly giving up on Vedalken Shackles.
(If you’re on a budget, it’s not a huge problem to -1 Plains, +1 Island, -4 Flooded Strand, +2 Misty Rainforest, +2 Scalding Tarn. For my first build,
I didn’t realize Strand was legal and was just doing this!)
4 Mutavault, 3 Riptide Laboratory
– These cards provide core parts of the Faerie/Wizards engine. Mutavault is key for getting the Faerie count up to two or three to allow Spellstutter
Sprite to do its work, as well as being very cheap to activate (good by itself, or with some swords). Riptide Laboratory allows you to rebuy a lot of
disruption and also sets up some frustrating defense where you get to “chump block,” and then bounce your guy back to your hand.
4 Spellstutter Sprite, 4 Vendilion Clique –
This is the other half of the Faerie/Wizard engine. Spellstutter Sprite provides a great counterspell against CC 0 and CC 1, while also being
reasonable against CC 2. Obviously, they can get even better in a long game, or when where you get flooded with Mutavaults, but when evaluating the
card, I think it’s not right to think too much about these unusual circumstances. Since the format is pretty fast, people are usually playing cards in
this cost band, so it’s Counterspell with upside much of the time; made even sweeter with the option to rebuy.
A lot of people shy away from playing the full set of Vendilion Cliques, which I think is a mistake. Against combo decks, Vendilion Clique provides
essentially the best disruption effect available in blue. Against combo and control alike, such a large front-end is a great clock to get out at
instant speed. In the occasional circumstance you draw two, they are fine at cycling themselves (if you think the first will survive for a while). The
most compelling reason, in my mind, to play the full count, though, is that it makes your Spellstutter Sprites just that much better.
4 Mental Misstep, 3 Spell Snare, 2 Counterspell (SB: 1 Spell Snare, 2 Counterspell) –
This is your early game countermagic suite. The basic idea is that you don’t want your opponent to be resolving spells you don’t have good answers to
in the early game. Having protection on turn 1 when you’re tapped out can be absolutely crucial. (The first time I played the deck, I got to Mental
Misstep both the T1 and T2 Thoughtseizes that would have taken me out of the game.) Spell Snare does the same job as Misstep, except it’s protection
for two-drops on T2 even when you’re on the draw (instead of one-drops when you’re on zero).
Choosing between main and board, I mostly considered how often I would need that spell and how many other spells could do the same job in most
situations, but I currently have the rest of the copies of each in the board because they are so good at what they do.
The only other spell I really considered for this slot was Force Spike, since it can kind of do double duty with Spell Snare, but can also get
three-and four-drops during the early game. The main thing I dislike about Spike is that in a control deck you’re usually inherently trying to play the
sort of game that goes long, and in a long game, it always winds up dead. The historic wisdom has been that you play Force Spike as a way of getting to
that promised land of the endgame, but I just think with Mental Misstep and Spell Snare around, there are better tools for the job.
3 Cryptic Command (SB: 1 Cryptic Command) –
This spell occupies sort of a strange space. In blue decks, I think it is crucial to have a couple catchall cards that deal with resolved permanents
that are causing problems. If you look back at Nassif and Gerry’s decks, they are both playing Repeal, both as a reasonable tempo-buying play vs. aggro
decks and also to fill this role. In the maindeck, I mainly thought that this card was vying for space with Ancestral Vision and Jace, the Mind
Sculptor. Vision kind of buys you more gas in a similar way to Cryptic or Jace, but I figured most of the time on T1, I wanted to gain two life by
playing a land tapped, Spell Snare, or Mental Misstep. I remembered in general that I liked Cryptic vs. aggro, but that I often cut some Vision because
they were too slow vs. aggro, so I decided that Cryptic seemed like a better choice for the task in the main. The fourth Cryptic in the sideboard is
plenty good, but could ultimately be cut to make space for anything.
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor –
I think four Jace doesn’t become correct until everyone else is playing three Jace. He is extremely good, but mainly in control mirrors since he is a
win condition that dodges many kinds of removal. While it is true that drawing doubles isn’t so bad in that he can shuffle himself away, in such a
speedy format you can’t always afford the time he demands to perform this task. (Often you can’t even afford to tap out past a certain point against
combo.) Also, with Riptide Laboratory providing rebuys on so many Faeries, and Stoneforge Mystic providing a path to card advantage with Sword of Fire
and Ice, it seemed that a lot of the time, I wasn’t going to need Jace to keep my lands busy gaining value over my opponent.
4 Stoneforge Mystic, 1 Batterskull, 1 Sword of Feast and Famine, 1 Sword of Fire and Ice (SB: 1 Umezawa’s Jitte) –
We all know this guy is powerful, and has been seeing play in every format (except Vintage?). Nassif and Gerry’s decks both looked to Vedalken Shackles
as a long-term solution to small creatures from aggressive decks: the ones that are too small for you to want to counter, but can’t be entirely
ignored. I think this deck uses Batterskull to play the same role, ramping the player’s life total up while keeping everything smaller than a 4/4 cowed
at home. It is also good against red decks in a way that Vedalken Shackles never was, providing a welcome final nail in the coffin when it hits the
table and gets going. (Suggestion for red decks: Sulfuric Vortex, Smash to Smithereens).
Against some combo decks and some situations vs. control I wanted Sword of Feast and Famine. This card is the most powerful of the swords by a long
shot, allowing control decks to cast all sorts of sorcery speed things they usually couldn’t ever get away with. (Like, perhaps, Future Sight? Probably
too win-more, but truly busted.)
The third piece of Equipment to maindeck was hard to choose. I first gravitated toward Umezawa’s Jitte, but realized that most of the time vs. aggro I
was just going to want Batterskull anyway. That freed my hand a little, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I was really
missing was an Equipment that would get me ahead in some control mirrors or help when my opponent was playing off the top of their deck. Sword of Fire
and Ice is a nice one-sided Howling Mine in its own right, while also being okay at burning little Elves to death. I decided I wanted a fourth
Equipment in my sideboard, so that when I boarded out whichever piece of Equipment was weakest in the current match, I had something juicy to bring in.
Since Jitte is the best at controlling Elves, which I think are a significant part of the meta, the old standby got the nod to sit on the bench.
4 Path to Exile –
Not much to say about the best removal spell since Swords to Plowshares. I know a lot of people don’t like giving their opponent an extra land, but I
say if you’re going to counter their spell anyway, does it really matter which turn you counter it on? I also love that you can fix/ramp your own mana
with this thing, often with a Spellstutter Sprite who already earned some value, or a Stoneforge Mystic which your opponent is determined to ace before
it goes active. Path provides answers to critters that fall through the cracks (esp. the T1 Nacatls and Goblin Guides that you didn’t have the Misstep
(SB: 4 Wrath of God) –
Having access to a sweeper is crucial against decks like Elves, as well as decks that aren’t really playing by the mana cost limits of the format and
are just running lots of 3+ CC dudes. (Your counter suite is a little weak vs. these.) I know a lot of people only play three Wraths in their board,
but I feel that when you need it, you need it fast, and sometimes often, so why mess around? Your deck gets a very powerful, new capability when you
bring these in.
(SB: 2 Vedalken Shackles)
– These two make the hardest time on your mana, but do very good work for you. Control Magic is fun, but being able to use it at instant speed, and
re-use it over and over is just tough for any fairish monster deck to handle. The added upside is that you also can use them to trump creature-based
combo like Pestermites or Swans of Bryn Argoll. I used to advocate playing three of these, but I really think you need 18-19 Islands to justify that
density. With only 14-15 Islands, you need to have made a lot of land drops before these guys are really going to turn on the way you want.
(SB: 4 Ancestral Vision) –
In the days of Nassif Faeries, this was an evolution that won many mirrors. The most important cards were Vedalken Shackles and Riptide Laboratories,
and whoever got more of both tended to be the winner. Hence Visions, and later Trickbind (as an uncounterable trump to Visions), became the next tier
of the mirror match. I’m not so sure what the crucial part of the mirror is with this deck, but I suspect Visions will be a part of it. This card is
also key to bring in against combo decks, which you can’t tap out against. When one of these resolves, it is usually backbreaking for them since you
have all the gas you need now to fight them.
Currently, these are the ways I would sideboard:
vs. Zoo: -1 Sword of Feast and Famine, -4 Vendilion Clique, -3 Cryptic Command, -1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, +1 Umezawa’s Jitte, +1 Spell Snare, +2
Counterspell, +2 Vedalken Shackles, +3 Day of Judgment.
vs. non-creature combo: -3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, -4 Path to Exile, -1 Batterskull (unless it cares about life total), +1 Spell Snare, +2
Counterspell, +4 Ancestral Visions, +1 Cryptic Command (unless you keep the skull).
vs. creature combo: -3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, -3 Cryptic Command, -1 Batterskull, -1 Sword of Fire and Ice, -1 Mental Misstep (unless they have 1 CC
black disruption, in which case -1 Spell Snare), +1 Umezawa’s Jitte, +2 Counterspell, +2 Vedalken Shackles, +4 Ancestral Visions.
vs. mirror: -4 Path to Exile, -4 Mental Misstep, -1 Cryptic Command, +1 Spell Snare, +2 Counterspell, +2 Vedalken Shackles , +4 Ancestral Visions.
(Maybe I’m on the wrong plan, and it’s actually right to try to maximize T2 Stoneforge Mystic, and you should play Path to kill them, and Misstep to
force/protect your own? Not totally sure what’s right here yet.)
The format is big, so it’s hard to make an exhaustive list of decks you could play against. Instead, I think if you consider what each card’s role is,
and what sort of things you need in each match, you’ll do well by just tuning this deck a little this way or that depending on what you need.
Thus far, I have been undefeated in matches in Gavin’s Tuesday tournaments, and Joe Bono took 1st with it at a live Overextended tournament in Seattle
during the International Overextended Day on July 2. I think there is quite a bit of room to upgrade the sideboard, tinker with the mana base, and
change a few cards, but I think the shell has a great pedigree and is very, very powerful.
If you’re playing Overextended, I recommend you check this deck out or stick it in your gauntlet and learn to beat it. If you’re not playing
Overextended yet, run, don’t walk.