Constructed Criticism – Grinding In Your PJs

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Dallas/Fort Worth!
Monday, January 4th – After a long and festive holiday vacation, I’m back to talk about Extended. Magic Online PTQs for San Juan have begun, and they are using Extended as the format of choice. Wizards is doing a great thing here, rewarding the player base for the online version and giving them incentive to buy Event Tickets from their store.

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Constructed Criticism. After a long and festive holiday vacation, I’m back to talk about Extended. Magic Online PTQ’s for San Juan have begun, and they are using Extended as the format of choice. Wizards is doing a great thing here, rewarding the player base for the online version and giving them incentive to buy Event Tickets from their store. Each PTQ, Wizards basically “cashes” in 25 Event Tickets per player, each of which is equivalent to 1$ for them, since the only way someone can get Event Tickets (hereby known as “Tix”), is to buy them from the store. No event gives out Tix as the prize, and thus Tix have become the backbone to the online marketplace, functioning as virtual currency. For you, that means you will probably be spending $25 in order to battle in the PTQ, not to mention the incredibly overpriced Extended cards at the moment. Hopefully the prices will settle down as people realize that these PTQ’s are great, but very difficult, time consuming, and costly.

What does that mean for your average player who does not play Magic Online? Well, not much unless you decide to venture into the virtual world. However, if you do, you are likely to shell out an incredible amount of money for a deck. I applaud those who looked ahead and bought a ton of Ravnica Duals before the announcement of Extended PTQs on Magic Online, as they have surely made a huge bundle. Just two weeks ago, you could easily acquire a Stomping Ground for a mere 8 Tix, but they have since spiked to a whopping 22+ Tix range. Most Zoo decks have been playing more fetchlands than dual lands, so hopefully this will lower the impact that the Ravnica Duals have on your wallet. If you are planning on playing Zoo, look forward to buying 40 Tix Tarmogoyfs, 45 Tix Baneslayer Angels, as well as all the lands the deck needs to function. Even Grove of the Burnwillows come attached with a moderate price tag.

This past Saturday was the first Extended PTQ of the season, both Online and in real life (excluding special PTQ’s at the more recent Pro Level Events). I joined the tournament with high spirits after doing well in a few online events with the following decklist:

Most recent versions of Scapeshift have evolved to the Online metagame, which consists of primarily Wild Nacatl and Burn decks. The player base that can afford the large price-tag attached to the format usually opts to play a better deck, but a heap of players just don’t want to invest a lot of money into the game, and decide to play the cheap Mono Red Burn deck. Unlike last year, you no longer have Sulfuric Vortex, so you have fewer outs to your bad matchups. However, decks like Martyr of Sands rarely exist, so it is not as necessary as it once was. Everlasting Torment could make for a fine substitute if you are in real fear of any of those archetypes.

Kitchen Finks is a concession to the popularity of Burn, since it buys you precious turns and puts you out of harm’s way until you can set up your combo. If you don’t know what this deck does, let me explain in one line:

Build your lands up to 7 or 8 and cast Scapeshift…. and win with Valakut.

That’s it. There are few decks less complicated than this one, but it provides you with a lot of ways to disrupt the opponent while you set up your combo. Your best matchups are aggressive decks that fail to play any sort of disruption like Gaddock Teeg or discard spells. You are decent against other control decks as well, since you are playing Remand and Condescend, as well as Negate in the sideboard. Dark Depths is a problem, and you might consider playing a few Ghost Quarters in your sideboard for that matchup. However, you can expect very few Dark Depths decks, since the majority of the card ‘Dark Depths’ are stuck on dead, forgotten accounts. Add to this the fact that Coldsnap is one of the most under-drafted sets of all time, not to mention one of the least opened by dealers of all time, and it makes for a pretty expensive land. Aside from that, the rest of the deck is not cheap either. Chalice of the Void and Engineered Explosives have jumped tremendously in the last few weeks, with Engineered Explosives going up over 30 Tix each.

I don’t recommend this particular version of Scapeshift for live PTQs, since I think the format will be much more varied, and you shouldn’t need Kitchen Finks maindeck. An interesting card to consider is Khalni-Heart Expedition, since it is very easy for you to trigger, and can speed you up by multiple turns and allow you to combo out more efficiently. A lot of players like Repeal over Into the Roil, but I much prefer having an out to Gaddock Teeg, so I chose the latter. After getting all the cards I needed from Bots and from friends, here is what happened:

PTQ #1

Round 1 against Mono Red

Game 1 I win on Turn 5 by accelerating with a Sakura-Tribe Elder and Wood Elves. He can’t kill me quite fast enough, and I win at 3 life while he has a suspended Rift Bolt.

Game 2 I mulligan into a pretty weak hand, and lose straight up on turn 4 to Goblin Guides, Ball Lightnings, and Lightning Bolts.

Game 3 is weird. I decided to side in Vendilion Clique to potentially have another threat, as well as a blocker for Goblin Guide. Additionally, he could remove a very scary Ball Lightning or Shrapnel Blast and (hopefully) replace it with a land. I see in his hand the following cards: Blood Moon and Zo-Zu, the Punisher. After thinking about how I can win this game, I take the Blood Moon since it shuts down my entire deck. Next turn he sticks Zo-Zu, and I try to battle through it with Kitchen Finks and the Vendilion Clique. He topdecks a few Ball Lightnings, and there is nothing I can do, since every land I cast kills me and I don’t draw anything to stop them.


I must say that playing the PTQ in my home was pretty refreshing. I didn’t have to drive for hours, and I got to spend time between rounds hanging out with my wonderful wife!

Round 2 against Dredge

Game 1 is pretty standard. I drew a Sakura-Tribe Elder, which keeps his Bridge from Below in check, and I use Remand to slow him down until I can hit 7 mana and kill him with Scapeshift. Winning Game 1 against Dredge is usually very difficult, but I find it is usually not bad for Scapeshift, since you can win (on average) more quickly than them, as long as you draw a bit of disruption.

Game 2 I just overwhelm him with Ravenous Traps and Tormod’s Crypts, and end up just beating him down with 2 Kitchen Finks after he starts to use Hedron Crab in the “deck target opponent” mode.


Kali is playing a Zoo deck in the tournament, and is 1-1 at this point. She had lost round 1 to an old-school Standard UW Reveillark deck. Apparently Zoo still has trouble dealing with Reveillark. Shocker!

Round 3 against UW Tezzeret Foundry

This matchup is very difficult, as most lists online are running a full set of Muddle the Mixture, and tend to run Cryptic Commands. The more Countermagic they run, the less likely it is that I win.

Game 1 I get the usual draw with accelerators, and use a Condescend on his Thirst for Knowledge. After a few turns of building resources, he taps down low for Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek. I have Scapeshift and Remand for his Cryptic Command, and he is dead after I find 7 Mountains and 2 Valakut.

Game 2 he plays an early Meddling Mage, and I never draw an Into the Roil to deal with it. I also sided out my Firespouts, so that was a bust as well.

Game 3 saw me battling against Glen Elendra Archmage, Meddling Mage, and counterspells. Not a winning prospect. I couldn’t really play spells without getting the relevant one countered, and I never drew Boseiju to protect my combo and just died to 2/2’s.

After a disappointed 1-2, I decided to drop and just watch Kali play. She is new to Extended, and it was fun watching her squabble over every card she’d never seen before. She had to read a lot of the cards played against her, but she did fairly well. She ended up getting her 3rd loss in round 7 of 9, and just dropped because it was unlikely she would still get prizes, or at least prizes worth sticking around for. After deciding that I wanted to switch decks for the next event, I realized that it began at 7am the next morning. I had ample time to obtain the cards I needed for my deck, and went to bed around 4am after staying up far too late.

This is a pretty close list for Tribal Zoo to what Owen Turtenwald used to make the finals of the PTQ on Saturday:

While I did not agree with some of the cards he was playing, I can’t really argue his results. In a 9-Round Swiss PTQ, Owen crushed just about everyone, and even vanquished his only swiss loss when they met in the Top 8. He fell in the finals to a very odd Dark Bant deck, sporting a few goodies that I might save for later. Most decklists for MTGO tourneys can be found at mtgonline.com, so feel free to check the deck out whenever they post the lists.

In this deck, my least favorite card is, and always has been, Steppe Lynx. You don’t want to get flooded, and Steppe Lynx is only good when you lead with him and can follow him up with at least 2 fetchlands. However, if you draw only 2 lands, he becomes ridiculously bad. I almost switched it straight up for Goblin Guide, as I think he deserves a slot. After getting bashed by Goblin Guide with a combo deck, I can safely say he is a solid man (not that anyone had questioned him to begin with). What I did know was that I really liked Tribal Flames, as it pulled games from out of nowhere after topdecking a burn spell right after a 5-point shot at their dome. In this decision, I think I was being a bit too results oriented, and it probably ended up costing me.

In the second PTQ, I felt like my deck was severely underpowered. I didn’t have enough hate cards to effectively deal with the problem cards that my opponents played, but still ended up with a decent record. My first loss game in Round 2 against All-In Red, where Game 1 he played a Demigod of Revenge on turn 1, and Trinisphere on turn 2, and I never saw Path to Exile. In the 2nd game, I lost to a Turn 1 Blood Moon. There were some glaring holes in my deck, including vulnerability to both Ghost Quarter, Path to Exile, and Blood Moon effects.

I felt like there were a few combo decks were I had virtually no sideboard cards, and especially so when I played against Hive Mind, Scapeshift, and even Dark Depths. I set my sideboard up to help out in the more commonly played matchups as opposed to the matchups where I had the most trouble. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake, since I can rarely beat a good draw from any of those combo decks. In the 2 matches against Scapeshift and Hive Mind, I got extremely lucky and killed them before they got to combo off, while presenting absolutely no disruption. While the deck is fast, it is not that fast. Dark Depths is the pinnacle of consistency, and just destroyed me. Neither game we played was close.

Overall I ended the tournament 6-2, with wins coming against some of my poorer matchups. I didn’t feel like I really deserved two of the wins, since I got pretty lucky to win and my sideboard was probably built incorrectly. I do think the deck is strong, but I am in complete disagreement with anyone who thinks Steppe Lynx belongs in a deck with less than 24 lands. Kird Ape and Wild Nacatl are efficient, and don’t require you to get flooded in order to produce results. Additionally, the mirror match has a lot of combat involved, which means you will often need to be able to block and trade with your opponents’ creatures. With Steppe Lynx, this is almost impossible.

If I had to play the tournament over again, I would definitely add either Pithing Needle, Ghost Quarter, or some combination of the two in the board against Dark Depths, since you have very little in the way of being proactive against them game plan. Path to Exile is often discarded via Duress or Thoughtseize, or even countered with Muddle the Mixture, so it is not very reliable. Their entire deck poses a real problem for you, and I would rate that particular matchup as at least 30% – 70% in their favor. If you happen to get a good draw and draw just enough disruption to put them behind, you can pull it out. But, if you stumble in the slightest, or they get their nut disruption draw and combo, there is little anyone can do really.

If you haven’t noticed a recent trend in Extended lately, it is that very few control decks exist anymore. Even the traditional control decks push towards an end-game that revolves around a 2 card combo to win the game (Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek). I haven’t seen any good versions of Faeries, as they will generally get rolled by most Zoo decks, and even more by the ones with Punishing Fire. I considered Faeries to be the best deck in the format before last season’s rotation, but the tides have turned rather quickly, what with the rules changes in M10, as well as the rotation of some key cards. If Faeries, or control in general, wants to make a comeback, they need to rethink their gameplan and ask themselves why they aren’t using an endgame that is very hard to beat once assembled.

If you already play Magic Online, I would suggest getting cards to play in these tournaments. Pro Tours can be amazing experiences, and this is a convenient and efficient way to qualify. If you don’t currently have a Magic Online account, then you should get one soon. It is truly an invaluable tool for building up your game.

Thanks for reading.

Todd Anderson
Strong Sad on MTGO