I’m back from vacation now, and pleasantly surprised that I managed to go two full years while only taking a total of three weeks off. This should be my 125th or 126th article for StarCityGames.com depending on how many articles got posted under my full name versus my shortened one. Thanks go out to all the people who read this column, who’ve shipped me props and gave me feedback over the past couple of years.
Now that Worlds has ended we have a solid grasp of what the new Extended format is shaping up to be. Let’s start by looking at the breakdown of decks that went 4-2 or better on Day 3… and heck, let’s add in the top eight of the Worlds PTQ.
4 AIR (All In Red)
1 Mono Red Aggro
23 Faeries (And yes, I realize the difference in aggressiveness between the U/B, Japanese and Nassif builds are varied)
7 Death Cloud
3 The Tezzerator
2 U/B Control
1 Astral Slide
1 Bubble Hulk
First off, let’s note the sheer diversity here. Sure, some of these decks might’ve gotten a bit lucky or were un-optimized, but having effectively 19 different decks is pretty impressive. Even if we discount some of the outliers* like Goblins, Mono-Red Aggro, Slide and others, you still have around 12 viable archetypes to choose from. However, the current archetype breakdown is rather generalized due to the nature of the beast, and doesn’t adequately express how combo-like many of these decks are.
* Note that the outlier decks still were well placed to take advantage of certain metagame niches. I definitely wouldn’t write off decks like Combo Goblins or TEPS quite yet.
Breaking those down further, we get something like this, archetype-wise:
Decks with combo-esque strategies: Affinity, Burn, AIR, Goblins, Elves!, Swans, Dredge, TEPS, Bubble Hulk.
Effectively half the decks in the breakdown are decks that really don’t want to interact with you. Aggressive decks are almost misnomers if they aren’t Zoo. AIR is one of the most opening-hand dependent decks ever designed, and its god hand is nearly unbeatable. Burn is just a storm-seven deck that can spread the spells out. Affinity is a turn 4 killing machine and can be even faster, although I find it becomes more unlikely as the mana requirements on the deck are ridiculous, at least if you want any game 1 chance against Elves.
You’ll find that, in Extended, many of the matches are over quite quickly, with only a few relevant plays being made by each side. This means a lot more is riding on your ability to mulligan correctly and adapt for post-board games. I cannot adequately express how valuable having a plan is before you reach for your board. The same goes with attempting to glean relevant information pre-board… even in losing games, I see people scooping much too soon. Sure, your chances to win are pretty much nil, but seeing extra cards could give you an insight you otherwise would’ve missed.
Other than that, it means the propensity to keep â€˜okay’ hands is going to get a lot of people killed and complaining about how lucky decks/players/format are. It isn’t anyone else’s fault that you kept a hand that lost to turn 1 Blood Moon, or you kept a hand that had a for-sure turn 3 kill on the draw against a deck that can consistently win on turn 3 and possibly even earlier. Analyze the major threats in the format that can be played turn 1 and consider which ones are easy to play around, with a few added criteria regarding the hands you’ll be willing to keep. There isn’t much you can do about turn 1 Deus of Calamity, but for most decks there’s a heck of a lot you can do against Demigod or Empty the Warrens for eight. This is doubly true if you plan on playing the Mono Blue deck from Worlds, which is arguably the other best deck in the format at the moment. Watch a couple of tournaments on Magic Online and you can see how poor hand-evaluation skills are with the deck, since the players don’t have the requisite games in yet.
Five major points are evident, at least to me, from the Worlds results and the subsequent testing period between Berlin and Worlds.
1. Elves is still amazing, so don’t chuck hate out the door quite yet.
This statement should shock no one, but I repeat it because you simply know in some area people aren’t going to have enough hate for the deck, or that not enough people will play Faeries to keep it in check. Elves still has the highest power level in the format by far, and it has one of the better Plan B attacks. Maindecks are also beginning to adapt against some of the hate with the addition of Thoughtseize, Umezawa’s Jitte, and Caller of the Claw. If not in maindecks, you can at least count on seeing some amount of the cards in the sideboards of Elves decks. Oh, and on that note, Chord of Calling has become the most popular version of the deck, both in the results and online. Expect every answer card under the sun, ranging from Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender to Magus of the Moon to Mystic Snake and anything else you can think of.
The biggest thing you can do if you really want a feel against the deck is to find someone truly familiar with how to combo out. There are a surprisingly high number of people, at least online, that seem to only know how to combo out (or at least make the attempt) under near-perfect conditions. Remember that even â€˜fizzles’ can leave 10-15 power worth of guys on the board ready to go. Don’t be shy about going all-in on a play that might not get you there if there’s a realistic shot at the opponent having time to wreck you with something.
2. Mono Blue forces you to be able to interact in some way or just lose.
Mono Blue forces enough interaction that, if you can’t properly interact with the opponent or side-step even rudimentary countermeasures, you’ll lose to it. Decks like Burn and Elves can’t consistently compete with a flood of counters, Jitte, and a reusable soft-lock. AIR can’t hope to be interactive against opponents simply due to the nature of the deck; as a result, it folds once the MUC player just fills his deck with anti-Red spells. Engineered Explosives is already there to beat Zoo, Elves, and other miscellaneous creatures, and that shuts off Empty The Warrens; Demigod is a joke in the match; and the only difficult to beat guy is Deus… and unless he hits turn 1, he’ll likely eat a Flashfreeze or Mana Leak.
Even decks like Affinity and company, which at least have some interactive elements, have major problems dealing with a deck that can directly challenge and nullify their major threats. So many of these decks are built upon the confidence that nothing will go wrong, or the very minimum, so they can be streamlined to be as quick as possible. That’s a major weakness that this MUC deck ends up taking advantage of in many matches.
Decks that actually can beat MUC fall under ones that either side-step playing against it fairly, such as Tron being able to mana ramp out of the range of counters or TEPS casting Gigadrowse on the end-step. The other way to go about it is having the tools to go long and play attrition. Loam Cloud decks* are a good example; they have Raven’s Crime and Life from the Loam which, if left unchecked, will sink any opposing deck under repeated uses. If that fails, it looks to reset the game with Death Cloud and then try it again.
* Speaking of which, this deck is actually great power-wise, but pretty inconsistent. In certain matches it tends not to matter what you draw because you just win anyway, but against anything slow if you don’t get the Crime / Loam plan online, you’re probably sunk.
3. Swans is the Counter Slaver of the format.
I know I need to unpack this for the non-Vintage players in the audience. Essentially, this deck just goes along doing its business, drops one half of the combo and then combos out the following turn. Normally this wouldn’t be very tough to deal with, but with over half the format switching to trying to race everyone else, suddenly it doesn’t become all that tough to run them out of early gas and win for free on turn 6. If Swans picks up in popularity at all, you’ll have to start preparing to have some way to crack the combo or consistently win through counters / Firespout before they go off. Faeries and MUC can handle this, but not much else aggressive can keep up. Perhaps we’ll see a switch back to other types of combo likes TEPS and Dredge instead of the flood of Red and Zoo in the format as a result.
4. AIR is the litmus test for every deck in the format.
If you think about it, this deck tends to have everything you could want from a general standing point for your deck. If you can go 50/50 or beat AIR, then at least likely your deck’s overall strategy is decent. It throws many of the more common elements you see in the Extended metagame into one deck. To beat AIR you need a decent game against mana disruption, early fatties, swarm attacks, and possibly stack control like Trinisphere or Chalice of the Void.
That’s a lot of bases to be covered, and this deck throws them all at you in varying amounts very quickly. As a result, you can get a pretty good read of just how good or bad your deck is against each element just by testing this single match-up. It isn’t the end-all for any one component, but it provides enough extremes that it could be worth testing against this deck a lot at first just to get a gauge early in testing.
A big thing to remember is not to get discouraged too much if you can’t beat the deck with consistency; it probably just saved you a whole lot of testing time. In general, this is why I don’t like Mono Red Burn or Tron as options, although the latter can at least maul MUC, which is definitely going to be a factor. This litmus test is only valid if the metagame stays spread out and people don’t just gravitate toward 3-4 decks.
5. Don’t fill your sideboard with mere â€˜good cards.’
If you’re playing Extirpate in your deck because it’s decent against a lot of stuff by stealing their â€˜best cards,’ you’re DOING IT WRONG. Other than artifact removal and Engineered Explosives, there are very few cards that see play in individual decks that are just good against a good portion of the field. You want to find the matches where the opposing strategy is putting you in an awkward position, and have cards available to stop that from happening. With Burn, this is why you see Ensnaring Bridge even though it only is really helpful against two matches. MUC devotes slots to Annul and Flashfreeze, because they help put major dents in linear strategies it has some problems with. Bitterblossom in some sideboards is almost entirely for the Faeries / MUC mirror. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
More than ever, like last season, individual match-ups are going to be more important than trying to spread yourself thin with generalized answers and hate against decks that don’t see much play. For example, Dredge is pretty good, but I’d have to really ponder including any sort of graveyard hate. Yeah, it doubles as Life from the Loam destruction, but that’s another strategy that really doesn’t see much play. Odds are you’ll never play these types of grave hate cards, which also means you shouldn’t be talking about them as real consideration when building your sideboard.
That’s about it for now. If you want to build a gauntlet, the best six decks to pick for a nice range are probably the following:
Good luck to anyone with a PTQ left for Kyoto, and congratulations to my friend Lucas Siow for winning the most recent one in San Jose. Good job!
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom