Deconstructing Constructed – Extended: The Ultimate Seduction

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Tuesday, February 19th – Extended has once again experienced a major shift, when compared to the first few weeks of the season. Before we had a number of midrange decks and Dredge as the most played and generally “best” decks… but the format has shifted week after week, back toward a new set of expected and top decks. Red decks of various sorts – Goblins, Red Deck Wins, and even Burn – have all been successful to some extent.

Extended has once again experienced a major shift, when compared to the first few weeks of the season. Before we had a number of midrange decks and Dredge as the most played and generally “best” decks… but the format has shifted week after week, back toward a new set of expected and top decks. Red decks of various sorts – Goblins, Red Deck Wins, and even Burn – have all been successful to some extent. The power of Counterbalance-Top has solidified Next Level Blue as the control deck you need to know how to beat or learn how to play, moreso than any other set of control decks. As for combo, Dredge has stayed popular, and may be even more popular now that the data has shown that it’s clearly doing well even when people are preparing for it. Ideal has also come back into the picture in a number of Top 8 lists after a disappointing start to the season, due to enchantment hate and general bounce falling out of boards.

Today I’m going to look at a number of interesting decks that have recently done well, lists that, when I first saw the concept, my first reaction was, ‘aw how adorable!’ instead of paying them any real attention. Even if you don’t think they’re viable in any way, some of these decks are dirt cheap… this means people will show up with them, people who wouldn’t have been playing at all when you consider the 300-500 dollar price tag of most Extended decks.

First, I want to briefly discuss the qualifier held in LA this weekend. I traveled down from NorCal with six other people, and played one of my favorite decks: Goblins. I ended up going 6-2 in a field that was filled with Goblins and Dredge, which also showed a good smattering of every other archetype this season. The only match I played twice was Dredge. This was the build I ended up playing. I had fewer fetches in the manabase due to not knowing how many Fetchlands I’d have at my disposal pre-tourney.

The Mogg War Marshalls are a concession to the number of Red decks emerging, giving my opponents credit that they’ll actually know how to play against Goblins. In the cast of an actual attrition fight, they are invaluable to have simply for the number of bodies they make. Unlike other Goblin decks I’ve seen (save Sean McKeown version) which run the full set, I would much rather be running Frogtosser Banneret in every other match-up. In fact, I don’t even mind them in the Red matches, because if they aren’t dealt with immediately I can dump my hand on the table shortly after, or cast a Goblin Ringleader on turn 3, at which point the game is practically over for a Red deck.

Patriarch’s Bidding is a bit clunky, and its usefulness in about half the matches you’ll likely see is close to nil. However, in the remaining chunk, against other Red decks and anything with Shackles, the card will typically win the turn you cast it or, at worst, the following one. Two is a good number in the maindeck, and the third in the sideboard is something that may or may not be changed down the road.

I feel Goblin Pyromancer is underrated in a field where you legitimately need to win on turn 4 against decks like Ideal, Bubble Hulk, and Heartbeat. In addition, it can turn the tables in a Goblin mirror match in a single turn. In testing I’ve traded Pyromancer and a few Goblins on my side of the table for twice as many on the opposition’s side. It also can just sit in your deck waiting for a single opening from your opponent in normal matches. Winning off a Warchief chaining a Matron into a Pyromancer isn’t uncommon, as it’s a fourteen point life-swing if unimpeded.

That said, Siege-Gang Commander is a good man and more worthwhile if Goblins picks up in popularity, as it seems to be doing across the board. In testing, the only times I wanted Siege-Gang Commander was either for a ridiculous Skirk Prospector position or in the Goblin mirror. Although a second Sharpshooter may end being more important than both creatures in that case, just because of the maximum blowout potential it creates.

I find Earwig Squad is one of those cards I initially disliked quite a bit, and then put in enough effort to see where he actually would fit in the deck. To me that’s the sideboard, to excel in the combo matches where he represents a potential turn 2 or 3 win against most decks in the field. He also has potential uses against Control, compared to some of the 1/1s you have which aren’t doing anything impressive. Warren Weirding was a card I liked quite a bit, but soured on when I realized the work I was usually putting in the make it truly useful was disproportionate to the gain… why not just run Bidding and win instantly?

As for the manabase, I’d cut a Blood Crypt and add another Bloodstained Mire. However, the manabase I was using never produced any issues for me at the PTQ despite going down to 23 sources total. The use of eight Warchief effects lessened the need to be able to hit the first four land drops in every single match, although I could certainly see going back up to 24. Goblin decks love their mana, because it enables so many of the higher functions of the deck, plus Bidding is five mana and you’d like to reach that in time for your aggro matches. If I was playing this at a long tournament like a GP, I’d add a third Mutavault to the maindeck, although I couldn’t tell you over what without more testing.

Speaking of Mutavault, this card may have been the most underhyped for the Extended format. I saw the card all day in what looked like at least one of every three decks. I was never sad to see Mutavault, and other than coming in for damage or pumping up Incinerator, it also ended up being a decent place to count as a Goblin or sink mana into in a pinch. Even as a decoy it was helpful, as people have this tendency to see killing a land coming in for damage as much better than some of your more valuable 1/1s.

The sideboard itself is pretty standard. I run Dredge and Bubble Hulk hate in Earwig Squad, Tormod’s Crypt, and Offalsnout. Shattering Spree is for Shackles decks and Affinity, which should be picking up pretty soon if Goblins gets big since it can reliably run Engineered Plague and put up a decent creature front. Dralnu’s Crusade is anti- Engineered Plague, as it can come down before it on the play and nullify the Wrath effect of the first Plague versus Grip, which only beats it after it has wiped most of your board.

The LA Qualifier Top 8 was:

3 Goblins (winner netdecking Sean McKeown list, which is R/B running Frogtosser Banneret)
1 Mono Blue Ninjas (listed below)
1 Red Deck Wins (featuring Scorched Rusalka)
1 Tron
1 BG… thing
1 Ideal

Watching the Top 8 after a long day you could see a lot of errors happening that probably wouldn’t have happened in round 4. One of the most important aspects of actually winning a tournament is keeping your mind fresh over 10+ hours of play and the anxiousness while waiting to play the next round. This was exemplified when in Goblins versus Ideal semifinals match it took both players roughly ten minutes to play their first lands. There were a few other plays that stick out, but since it was second hand information (I only caught half the games since I left to get food) I don’t want to go into them. Onto the lists!

I didn’t create this deck… unfortunately, I don’t have the name of its pilot. This made it to the finals of the LA qualifier, where it was defeated by Goblins. I have to admit, when watching the deck I was completely and utterly confused at what was going on. Seeing Mothdust Changeling in any Constructed format seemed pretty inconceivable to me at the time, and it still strikes me as odd to see. The deck is basically just a bunch of different synergies converging together due to playing very nicely with Standstill and Ninjas. Now that I have the list, I can at least see the various synergies between Spellstutter Sprite, Mutavault, and the Changeling. Same goes with Swarmyard, which I had forgotten what it did until I saw Mothdust in play holding off a dork thanks to regeneration.

Otherwise the entire deck is a bunch of synergies. Spellstutter Sprite combos well with the Changeling, Faerie Conclave, and Mutavault. Even by itself it can counter burn, Sensei’s Divining Top, Mogg Fanatic, and Skirk Prospector to name some of the better one-mana spells. Mutavault and the other manlands play well with Ninjas, not only being cheap enablers, but allowing them to sneak under Standstill and immediately be replayed. Shuriken plus Ninjas / Mutavault are adorable, being a reusable Shock and all, with the latter not caring about it falling off anyway.

If anyone who helped build the deck wants to chime in the forums, please do so. I’m at a loss at how it beats anything remotely Red without a great Jitte draw, but I did see it beat Blue decks. It has such a large amount of cogs that work together, so it could be vastly better than it looks on paper.

“That twenty dollar burn deck” had a presence at the PTQ, along with the previous Top 8 finishes it picked up last weekend. The deck can just blow through decks that lean on Fetchlands and duals to fix mana, and the same goes for Blue if they don’t get Counterbalance-Top out to wipe the deck out. If they don’t, they end up facing down a number of creatures they can’t Shackle along with infinite burn to which it has few other outs.

The flaws in the deck are pretty apparent when you look at it, but it’s still something to look at and briefly consider because these are the kinds of extremes people will slide deck design towards to take advantage of a format that totally writes them off. Flores did the same thing at the beginning of the season with his stall and life-gain plan. This is the exact opposite of the plan with the same kind of results… certain decks just can’t hope to beat this concept barring luck-based influences like mana screw or mulligans.

Finally we have the deck that in part led to the reference in the title. In this current field it’s so easy to get pulled in by how good a bunch of the two-drop creatures are at shutting down entire archetypes by themselves. Then in every other match they step up and start trading with Goblins, punching Blue players in the mouth, or playing lesser secondary roles with their abilities. Add to that the fact that the creature base in part resembles my own when I posted a similar deck a month ago — heck, even the Armadillo Cloak + Jitte numbers are the same, which makes me happy that someone else recognized how good those cards were when paired together.

The key switches he made were the addition of actual removal, which I fully support, and the cutting of one drop mana accelerators for Dark Confidant and Chrome Mox. By themselves the choices seem a bit shaky, but in a sense they make up for each other’s shortcomings. Dark Confidant takes cares of the topdeck mode issue and card loss from Chrome Mox, while Mox is a non-burnable Elf here. The only thing that really felt missing was Treetop Village since he has very little to do on turn 1, but considering the low mana count he must have balked at running any lands that couldn’t immediately be used for mana.

So there you have it… more of the unique designs doing well along with the current shift in the metagame. Grand Prix: Vancouver may significantly change this, so we’ll have to wait and see how this will shift again in a week (assuming it does). Next week I’ll either be covering the Vancouver decks in-depth or going over purely new designs. I’ll also throw a bone to the Vintage players with a portion of the article about the Tyrant Oath build my team designed that won Stratfordbury this weekend. See you then, and good luck!

Joshua Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

P.S. – Big props to the fellow NorCal guys with whom I rode down to the LA qualifier. The only downside to the whole weekend was the one guy whining the whole way back in the car instead of sleeping.

P.P.S. – A shout-out to Rich Shay for winning the whole Vintage tournament with Tyrant Oath, and Mike Lydon and Chris Browne for being in the thick of things until the very end.