Black Magic – Looking Forward: Setting Priorities and Preparing for Extended

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Tuesday, December 29th – With the New Year looming large, and people focussing on their future development, Sam Black takes a look at the formats he intends to play and the tournaments he’s looking to enter. Such analysis and preparation is necessary for anyone looking to excel, and Sam is ready to go!

Last week was about looking back on the previous year, and this week – sticking with New Year’s tradition – will be about looking ahead to the year to come. I want to discuss planning, preparation, and setting goals, for myself in this moment, and consider these processes in a more general context.

In my last article I mentioned that I stretched myself too thin, and that this year I need to pay more attention to keeping my goals realistic. I need to figure out how much I can realistically expect to have time for without lowering my chances across the board. Preparation for an event is something that’s been written about a lot. Much less thought is given to preparation for a year or season. I need to know well in advance which tournaments I’m going to prepare for if I’m to know when and how to prepare for them.

I do this by setting every tournament I might play in on a calendar. For the coming year, I won’t be able to play in PTQs, so my calendar includes every PT, every GP there’s the slightest chance I might attend, every StarCityGames.com $10K Open weekend, and every stop in the Midwest Masters Series. Season to taste with whatever events you intend to play in, but it can really help to have a calendar of events to tell you the formats for which you need to be prepared. In February, for instance, I would consider attending GP: Oakland (Extended), PT: San Diego (Standard and Draft), and GP: Madrid (Legacy) or the StarCityGames.com $10k Open weekend in Richmond (Standard and Legacy). These are all in consecutive weeks. That’s 4 different formats to prepare for in 3 weeks. It might be possible to do all that if I start now, but Worldwake will be legal for those events, and the prerelease is January 30th.

This creates a serious difficulty in scheduling my testing, and I have the following factors to consider:

1: Worldwake will impact each format in the following order of significance:


Testing draft without Worldwake is much less helpful for these events than testing Legacy without Worldwake, which should be almost as good as testing it with Worldwake. Standard is still pretty sketchy, Extended is probably pretty safe.

2: I will collect outside data that will influence my testing on each of these formats. Testing before an influx of data is much less useful than testing after it. I can expect some relevant data from the first weeks of the Extended PTQ season to substantially impact the metagame for Oakland. The Midwest Master’s Series may or may not provide useful data for PT: San Diego. I don’t expect to get any new data from other events on Legacy or Limited.

This discourages early testing of Extended, as a lot of my work could be done for me by PTQers.

3: The events have the following hierarchy of importance:

Standard at San Diego
Draft at San Diego (fewer rounds than Standard)
Extended at GP: Oakland
Legacy at GP: Madrid (even if I attend, the tournament will have lower EV than Oakland because it will have more players, and should be prioritized lower as a result)
Legacy at Richmond
Standard at Richmond (This will be a different format than Standard at the PT because it will be shaped by those results – it’s less significant than Legacy for the same reason Madrid is less significant than Oakland)

4: The timing of events is also important, as I can prepare for them sequentially. Once Oakland is over, I won’t have to worry about Extended until April (assuming I’m not going to Yokohama, and April is far enough away to not factor into my considerations for February). Legacy happens last, so there’s further incentive not to work on it early.

Using this information I have to decide how much to test each format and when to test them. Point 3 is most useful in determining how much, while 1 and 2 are useful in determining when. Standard is the most important format to be prepared for, so I have to make sure I’m ready. In order to be ready, I think that I’ll have to play more or less exclusively Standard for my Constructed testing from the release of Worldwake forward. Draft is most logistically difficult to practice, so I’ll probably follow the usually rule of “draft whenever I can get people together” between Worldwake’s release and the PT. Extended is the first tournament I’ll have to play, and I’ve already committed my time after Worldwake’s release, so I should focus on Extended now through January (while still keeping current with Standard). Testing for Legacy seems more or less hopeless at this point, so I’ll be skipping GP: Madrid, and if I attend the SCG $10k Open in Richmond, I’ll just play Legacy on Saturday with other people there who have Legacy decks.

Having decided this, the next issue is figuring out how to most efficiently test each of these formats. Extended is very hard to test online at the moment, despite the fact that I have a lot of the cards I’d need, because tournaments fire very rarely because they pay out packs that aren’t worth enough to justify the cost of entry. As a result, I should expect to have to do most of my Extended testing in person. Fortunately, this is the area I feel like I’ve most improved in the last year.

I’ve spent the last week organizing my collection (for the first time ever). I can now easily find cards for Extended. I’ll put together a gauntlet and a few decks I’m particularly curious about, being sure to put as much thought into sideboards as maindecks. When I play the decks against each other I will not play a single game one. Let me reiterate: You’re better off testing only sideboarded games. I will take notes on results, and I will pay attention to changing cards frequently. This last point will be hardest, because using real cards makes the process slightly more daunting, but it’s important to force decks to evolve as you play them. The final point is one that is hardest, given my testing method and one that I haven’t had to personally beat myself up over, but I’m sure it’s extremely important. Once I have an idea of what deck I want to play, I will substantially test the mirror match if I think there is a realistic chance that that’s a match I’ll have to play.

Testing the mirror is an often overlooked but extremely important step. In many ways it’s more valuable than testing any other matchup. First, I think you learn a lot about what your opponents will generally be thinking when they play against you, because you’ll be playing against the same thing. It’s somewhat like testing both sides of the match at the same time. Second, sideboarding is often hardest for the mirror as there’s always tension between trying to go a little faster and trying to go a little bigger, and trying to focus on threats or trying to focus on answers, and there isn’t a consistently correct plan.

When testing the mirror, it is best (as always) to only play post sideboarded games, and it’s also best not to actually play the same 60 cards against each other. Have one person sideboard in one direction and the other sideboard in another direction, and see which works better, but, as always, make sure that both people are conscious of changing their decks between games.

These are the same points I’ll employ when testing Standard.

At this point, I think almost everyone’s focusing on beginning their preparation for Extended, so I’ll go into some more detail there.

In Austin I played Zoo, and felt like it was fine, but nothing special. I was playing almost exactly the kind of Zoo deck that Rubin Zoo is designed to prey on, so I would not want to play that again. I’m willing to play Rubin Zoo as a backup plan, but I think it’s better to try to find something else first. The most exciting place to look for me is Yuuta Takahashi’s 5-1 Extended deck from Worlds, which looks strikingly similar to Time Spiral / Lorwyn Standard Faeries:

6 Island
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Mutavault
4 River of Tears
2 Scalding Tarn
4 Secluded Glen
2 Watery Grave

4 Mistbind Clique
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Vendilion Clique
3 Ancestral Vision
4 Bitterblossom
3 Cryptic Command
3 Doom Blade
4 Mana Leak
2 Repeal
2 Thoughtseize
3 Umezawa’s Jitte

3 Deathmark
1 Doom Blade
3 Flashfreeze
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Relic of Progenitus
2 Thoughtseize

Scion of Oona has been replaced by Vendilion Clique, largely due to negative interactions with Umezawa’s Jitte. One Cryptic Command has been cut due to the slower nature of the format and competing point on the curve with Umezawa’s Jitte. The number I like least is only 3 Ancestral Visions, and I’d be tempted to cut a Jitte or a Vendilion Clique for a 4th, but I don’t know if I’m comfortable lowering the creature count below 12. In the past, I haven’t been a fan of Leyline of the Void, but lately I’ve been unimpressed by other card’s ability to actually shut down dredge, and I feel like Leyline is a lot better in a deck with countermagic to support it. I really like his sideboard, and would start in the same place until I see exactly where the deck looks like it needed more help.

One of the most noteworthy things to me about this build is that it doesn’t play Spell Snare, which is usually one of the first cards in decks like this. It’s somewhat redundant with Spellstutter Sprite, and I like the decision to leave it out here. Another notably absent card is Dark Confidant (and Chrome Mox), but again, I think I like the decision to leave him out and just focus on being a Faerie deck.

Another significant decision made in this build is the amount of effort he puts into beating Dredge with six dedicated hate cards. My initial reaction is that that seems a bit excessive, but I think it’s actually the number required to have a favorable matchup there, and I think the cost is worth it, although I don’t think I would have gone that way on my own.

As obvious as this deck looks, I actually think it’s very innovative for Extended in the cards it chose not to play, and I think Yuuta made a lot of great decisions, so I’m excited to work on it.

It’s also worth noting that over half of the undefeated decks at Worlds played Thirst for Knowledge, including Przemyslaw Nagadowski’s Hypergenesis deck. If Faeries doesn’t work out, I’m pretty sure I’ll still want to play Blue, and the next places I’d look are some sort of Thopter/Sword deck, and Bant if I don’t like that.

The final consideration is the new Jace. While I’ll be testing Extended before Worldwake, I won’t actually be playing Extended before Worldwake, so I should test with cards as they’re spoiled. Jace is a pretty exciting card to build around in Extended. In Standard there is the consideration that Blue might not have enough good cards or that Bloodbraid Elf might be too problematic for Jace (neither of which I particularly believe – I think the new Jace will be good in Standard), but I think it might almost be better in Extended. Curving Vendilion Clique to make sure it’s safe into Jace (presumably after answers on the first two turns) seems like a very strong play, and it seems almost impossible to recover from Jace on a stable board if the Jace deck is built to a reasonable standard. The fact that it’s so good at digging (with shuffle effects) means that it’s excellent for setting up combos, (most significantly Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek). Thinking about it more, I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing the new Jace in Oakland if I’m not playing Faeries. (I don’t think Faeries can afford another four-drop, though playing one copy is not entirely out of the question).

Until next time…