This week, I’ve learned a lot about Extended. While DDT continues to dominate, and win pretty much every tournament, I think a lot of that has to do with the abundance of people playing the deck in such a small tournament. Sure, the deck is really good, but if enough people play a really good deck, it is certain to put up good results. Jund is a great example of this in Standard, since no one can really find a way to consistently beat Jund without sacrificing almost every other matchup. Most people will just play Jund themselves as a result. While DDT might have been the best deck choice in Extended for a while, you must be incredibly proficient with the deck in order to have a chance. I have been playing the deck for upwards of two months, and have solid finishes in a few tournaments with it, but I just can’t seem to get a winning record anymore in larger tournaments.
With that said, and as I mentioned last week, everyone is prepared to beat Marit Lage. Zoo decks have between 4-8 answers maindeck, depending on whatever version they are playing, and that does not even include Blood Moon resolving before you can find your combo. Last week I proposed a different version of Blue/Black Thopter, which cut out the Dark Depths combo completely. While you are sacrificing a bit of leverage in combo matchups, your aggressive and control matchups become infinitely better. Your draws are far more consistent, and you can afford to play more removal spells and card draw than normal versions of DDT. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a fine win condition on its own, and you are also able to fit in many more Basic Lands, as well as a few Fetchlands. This allows you to add value to Jace, as well as having more virtual Basics against Blood Moon decks. DDT’s major problems are decks that have both disruption as well as answers to their Marit Lages. Their backup plan of Thopter Foundry is vulnerable to many of the same cards as the Marit Lage, including Bant Charm, Celestial Purge, and Damping Matrix. This makes having the secondary combo no longer valuable, since the answers to them double up against you. That is what made having the Thopter Foundry combo good in the first place, since it basically blanked all the Path to Exiles running around, which was the only real answer to the 20/20 earlier in the season. Sure, there were other cards that dealt with it, but they were far less common. Now, even cards like Temporal Isolation are seeing play, which can make having the Dark Depths combo very frustrating.
I have a self-conflict. That conflict derives from a card I cast when Lorwyn first came out, and that card is Cryptic Command. Before Cryptic Command, I loved just casting monsters and turning them sideways. Burn spells? Pack ’em in the deck. Aggressively costed creatures? Of course they’re in. Counterspells rarely graced my brews, because I just didn’t like being reactive. In recent memory, there have been few decks I’ve really enjoyed playing that couldn’t take the control role in a match. I know I’ve chatted about Zoo a lot over the last few months, but that is because, at that time, I really believed that Zoo was the best deck in Extended. I try to play whatever I think the best deck is at any given point in a format, because I want to win. Occasionally I will play a deck that is less powerful than the conceived “best deck,” but that is mostly because I want to dodge the hate that is aimed at that particular deck’s weaknesses. Dredge is a great example of this, since it is an incredibly powerful strategy, but you can just get crushed by a prepared opponent, or even splash damage if a card is good enough against you (see Leyline of the Void). While most versions of DDT are playing Leyline of the Void for the mirror, they are just insane splash damage against probably one of the best decks in the format. Therefore, I do not play Dredge. This same logic can be applied to me playing Dark Depths, because losing to the hate cards that have become entrenched in current deckbuilding methods can make you vulnerable when you just don’t need to be.
I’ve recently played DDT in my last three PTQ’s, including two Online PTQ’s, but have yet to do better than 3-3. While this may say a bit about my playskill, it says even more about how the people you are playing against are becoming more and more prepared. When GerryT won his PTQ with DDT, his opponents just got destroyed one after another, mostly due to the fact that people were barely prepared for the Marit Lage, and even less prepared for Thopter Foundry. Today’s metagame has incredible amounts of hate that is insanely difficult to sludge through, and I am just too tired of doing it. Sure, you can battle Dredge against Leyline of the Void and Ravenous Trap all day long, and you will win a lot of your matches, but winning a tournament that is virtually single elimination is just not feasible. However, enough people play DDT that it puts up good results, and people have enough experience with it that they get a ton of free wins on the back of making the good decisions. But, for every “free” win you get, there are three other Zoo decks packing Blood Moon, Path to Exile, and Temporal Isolation that you have to fight through. While you might win two of them, you will often lose two of them. That is just not acceptable in a PTQ.
With my deck from last week, my basic idea was to take the weaknesses from DDT, and turn them into cards that help to facilitate your Games 2 and 3. Game 1 is very difficult for most decks to beat Thopter Foundry, so focusing on that plan is much more efficient than focusing on making a huge creature. It is also important to note that most Zoo decks are conforming to Blood Moon, and are playing fewer Bant Charms. This is great for you, since you have plenty of Basic Lands, and their Temporal Isolations and Path to Exiles are virtual blanks. Your Game 2 plan is to transform into less of a combo deck, and more of a control deck. When you don’t have to side out lands, this is much easier. When DDT tries to become a control deck, you end up having a ton of dead cards in the format of repeat Urborgs and Dark Depths, which can be problematic. Against the aggressive decks, you are bringing in tons of removal and large Shroud monsters, which make for tough times for the average Zoo player. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is amazing on all levels, and I just cannot stress how powerful he is in the UB Thopter deck. I know I talked about him a bit last week, but I’ve had a lot more time to play with him. I have even been trying to fit him into a Zoo deck, since the Brainstorm effect can be amazing when you play 12+ fetchlands. However, I think playing aggressive cards in the four drop slot (Bloodbraid Elf and Ranger of Eos) is just better than playing a Planeswalker. If I find a list I like with Jace, I’ll be sure to share it with you.
With our current list, we are no longer cold to a Leyline of the Void. I chose Into the Roil over Echoing Truth because I feel that Into the Roil drawing a card is much stronger in this deck than being able to bounce multiple permanents with the same name. You are much less of a combo deck, so bouncing cards like Damping Matrix are not as effective as they are in DDT, where you can buy a window to make a 20/20. If your opponent plays double Leyline of the Void, then you should probably switch to the plan of killing them with Sphinx of Jwar Isle. The maindeck is largely the same, but I think it is a bit more efficient than the one from last week. I didn’t like the two Damnations maindeck, since they are largely dead cards against some of the format’s fringe strategies. While it shines against Zoo, that is really the only matchup where you want them. I have the 2nd in the sideboard to compliment the first in the maindeck, so you can go up to two against Zoo and the like.
One thing that has positively changed in my opinion is upping the Basic Land count to six. With two Fetchlands, as well as the six Basics and Chrome Moxen, you have plenty of ways to get around Blood Moon. The Seat of the Synod was just worse than an Island most of the time, since I battled against Blood Moon on many occasions. Sure, you were able to bring back a Sword of the Meek with Thopter Foundry in the case where you discarded the Sword to Thirst for Knowledge, but you can just use Chrome Mox or Academy Ruins in those scenarios. I feel like having more Basics is just too important. The two Fetchlands double as Black and Blue sources, since they can get Watery Grave, but also give Jace more value. The only questionable card in the Maindeck is the Bojuka Bog, but I don’t have room in the sideboard for it, so I think it needs to stay for now. Your Dredge matchup is not as good as DDT’s, so having the Bog is great there. It even doubles as useful against Zoo on occasion, since you can shrink Knight of the Reliquary or Tarmogoyf in a pinch.
The sideboard has received the biggest upgrade overall. Most of the deck’s weaker matchups came at the hands of combo decks that relied on some ridiculous card that you were dead to in a topdeck war even if you ripped their hand apart with Thoughtseize and Duress. With Negate, this becomes much less of a problem, since Negate is a hard counter against all the things you really need to deal with. Hypergenesis? Bashed. Scapeshift? Dealt with. Cryptic Command? Crushed. With Muddle the Mixture and Thoughtseize playing backup, it should not be hard to keep the opposing combo or control deck under your thumb until you can finish them off with Thopters and the like.
After playing a bit more with Meloku, the Clouded Mirror, I don’t think she is strong enough to warrant a sideboard slot. My opinion might change in the future, but I just don’t have room at the moment. If I did, I would to put a second Chalice of the Void into the sideboard. Chalice is just sick against Burn, all Cascade decks, and even solid against Zoo. However, with the two Tolaria Wests, one should be enough for what you are trying to do.
The Leylines are there for reasons listed in last week’s article, as well as the Sphinxes, Deathmarks, and Damnation. One card that I cut from the maindeck to the sideboard for a little while was Gatekeeper of Malakir, but that was mostly due to your inability to consistently cast him in the early game. Without Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, you just don’t really have enough Black mana sources to cast when it counts. If your opponent is playing DDT and they combo you on Turn 3 with Hexmage Depths, you will look pretty silly with a Tolaria West or an Island in play. The Into the Roil and Repeal are great answers that weren’t in the deck last week, and double as ways to give you outs to both Blood Moon and Damping Matrix. I wouldn’t recommend going into such a heavily populated DDT field without those two bounce spells. You can also occasionally bounce their Thopter Foundry before nabbing it with Thoughtseize, which is pretty nice (but fairly obvious). I know they weren’t there last week, but I think they are necessary after having played more with the deck.
After building this list, I decided to play a 4-Round Tournament on Magic Online, and give you a walkthrough. Here is what happened:
Round 1 against yahoo_WB playing Scapeshift Zoo (made popular by Jon Loucks)
Against an unknown opponent, I kept an opener of 3 lands, Chrome Mox, Smother, Repeal, and Jace. He opens with Steppe Lynx, and I opt to just play a land instead of using Chrome Mox to Smother it. I’ll be taking 4 damage, but I don’t really want to get rid of any of the cards in my hand, and especially so when I drew another land. He fails to play a fetchland on the second turn, and just plays a Wild Nacatl (as a 1/1 with Flagstones and a Forest in play). After I take 2 damage, I draw a Dark Confidant, play a land and pass with Smother mana up. In order for him to accelerate, he uses Path to Exile on his own Wild Nacatl, then plays a Vinelasher Kudzu and a fetchland on his own turn. I repeal the Steppe Lynx, as I’m sure he doesn’t have any lands in hand due to using Path to Exile on his own creature. I draw a Thopter, play another land and pass. He fails to play a land, and I just smother his Vinelasher Kudzu that is a 3/3. I Thoughtseize him, taking a Path to Exile and leaving a third Path to Exile stuck in his hand. He untaps and rips Knight of the Reliquary. I play Mox, imprinting Confidant, and cast Jace to Unsummon his Knight. Without a land drop, he won’t be able to kill Jace very easily. In his mainphase, he decides to play Tarmogoyf and Path to Exile it, making Steppe Lynx into a 2/3 and killing Jace. I topdeck Thirst for Knowledge, discard some lands and play a safe Dark Confidant. He plays Knight of the Reliquary and Wild Nacatl then passes. I draw Smother, and kill his Knight before he can untap, as well as playing the Thopter Foundry. I have Into the Roil in hand in case he has some Scapeshift shenanigans with Sejiri Steppe, and Confidant draws me more gas. I finally draw a Muddle the Mixture, tutor for Sword of the Meek, and there isn’t anything he can do after that. He tries to combo kill me with Scapeshift, but I use Into the Roil to bounce his huge guy in response to it gaining protection from my blockers.
In the second Game, I keep an opener on the draw with one land, Dark Confidant, Deathmark, two Smothers, Engineered Explosives, and Thopter Foundry. While not the greatest of hands, I do have a good removal spell to buy time, as well as Engineered Explosives to wreck his squad if I can draw another land. He leads with Flagstones but passes with no play. I draw another Smother and play Explosives for one while he plays a Plated Geopede. Luckily, I topdeck a Swamp and get to work on his creatures with Smother. He has no 3rd turn play, so I just play Confidant after topdecking a land. He uses Path to Exile on my Bob, and passes again with no creature. I play Thopter Foundry and pass after drawing a Sunken Ruins. He plays Steppe Lynx, but I decide to just take 2 from it when he plays an uncracked fetchland. I sacrifice a dead Chrome Mox to make a Thopter and get to work on his life total. I had a feeling he’d have some answer for Thopter Foundry, so I searched up Academy Ruins with Tolaria West, while he used Celestial Purge to kill it. However, he did it while I had 1 mana up, so I just made another Thopter. He played Tarmogoyf, but my hand was two Smother and a Deathmark. I get to bashing with my 1/1’s and Deathmark his Goyf. I like saving Smother when I have excess mana because of Manlands and also so I can kill creatures in response to Sejiri Steppe off of Scapeshift. I topdeck Muddle the Mixture and go get Sword, and use Academy Ruins to get back Thopter. He doesn’t have a way to get out of the “lock” and I mop up from there.
Round 2 against Dish playing BG Smallpox
I mulligan into a hand with Sunken Ruins, Ghost Quarter, Chrome Mox, Repeal, Muddle the Mixture, and Thoughtseize. He opens with some Swamps and Augur of Skulls (awk). I drew a fetchland, and he gets my hand with Augur. I discard Mox and Ghost Quarter, while he plays another Augur. I use Repeal to bounce it, drawing Jace. He replays the Augur but misses his land drop. I use Jace to bounce the Augur again, buying some time. This lets me set up Thopter Sword after a few turns of drawing and searching, and he can’t really do anything because he stalled so badly.
I had no idea how to sideboard, but I knew Sphinx wasn’t great because he had Gatekeeper of Malakir and Smallpox. Deathmark also seems weak, since his only Green creature is probably Tarmogoyf. I keep an opener in Game 2 with Confidant, Thirst, 2 Muddle the Mixture, Jace, and two lands on the draw. He Toughtseizes my Confidant, but I draw a land, then a Thoughtseize, and get to Thirsting for Knowledge after ripping a Filigree Fracture out of his hand (which seems solid against Thopter Foundry when I’m tapped out). He has no creatures and no other gas in hand really besides a Jitte, and Jace on Turn 4 just rolls him. I use his +2 and get him up to Ultimate status and keep all the useless spells on the top of his deck.
Round 3 against Lukis playing BG Depths
This round I played against a friend of mine who I had loaned some cards. We decide to just battle it out, since the prizes aren’t worth all that much in these tournaments, and I really only use them for QP’s and practice.
Game 1 I keep an opener with 4 lands, Thoughtseize, Sword of the Meek, and Muddle the Mixture. He Duresses my Thoughtseize, and I just play a land and pass while drawing a Thopter Foundry. He untaps and casts Confidant. I draw and play my own Confidant, maintaining parity. He draws a Thoughtseize and hits my Thopter Foundry, but I luckily draw Smother to destroy his Confidant, gaining an advantage. He makes a 20/20 a few turns later with Hexmage and Dark Depths, but I have drawn Repeal off a Thirst for Knowledge. After that, it is elementary.
Game 2 he leads with Thoughtseize, taking my Thoughtseize. I use Smother to kill his Tarmogoyf, and he just passes with no play. I use Thirst for Knowledge, discarding a Mox. At this point, I have 2 Muddles, Into the Roil, Thopter Foundry, Smother, and Jace. I probably should have kept the Mox and discarded two spells, so I could cast Jace a turn earlier. He uses Thoughtseize and Extirpate to get rid of my Jaces, since I’ve drawn another at this point. My Thopter Foundry keeps me at over 20 life, so there is no way Rite of Consumption can kill me, and I eventually tutor for Sword of the Meek and make some 1/1’s. He ends up having another Extirpate for the Swords, but he doesn’t draw anything to kill my threats, and I just beat him to death with Confidants and a Sphinx of Jwar Isle.
Round 4 against reiderrabbit playing Bant Zoo
I win the roll and play Turn 1 Dark Confidant, but he Bolts it. I topdeck another Confidant, but he has another Bolt as well as a Wild Nacatl. I Smother his Nacatl, but he follows up with more gas in the form of Knight of the Reliquary. I use Jace to bounce it, but he replays it along with a Wild Nacatl. I don’t really have a way to stop him from killing Jace, so I Brainstorm and try to draw an answer. I actually find my Thopter Combo before he is able to kill me, but he draws multiple Bant Charms to just run me over.
Game 3 is pretty close, but ultimately comes down to me choosing between Sphinx of Jwar Isle or Thopter Foundry combo. I chose Thopter Foundry since I was pretty low on life, and he ends up having Bant Charm to kill it. There was actually a point where I could have discarded 2 Swords of the Meek to Thirst for Knowledge, which would have given me a 3/4 Blocker when I sacrificed my Thopter Foundry against his Wild Nacatl. It probably would have won me the game, but I was on autopilot, and have never intentionally discarded two artifacts to Thirst before. It’s just another thing to think about.
After some in-depth battling with the deck, I feel more and more comfortable with it every day. If I had drawn any removal in the third game, I think I would have won. His 6/7 Tarmogoyf was really problematic for me, since it was bigger than Sphinx of Jwar Isle, and forced me to chump block it. The Shroud was very important all tournament, since a lot of people put me on Dark Depths and kept in useless Paths to Exile against me. Meloku would have been pretty bad in this tournament, since I didn’t play against DDT at all, but it is still a card to consider. I think I might try to find room for the 4th Deathmark, but I am currently at a loss. If you have some ideas about the deck, or decide to play it in one of your local or online PTQ’s, let me know! I plan on battling out the rest of the season with this deck, as long as it keeps performing as well as it has been, and my opponents keep leaving in Path to Exile for my non-existent Marit Lages.
Thanks for reading.
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