When looking through a format for edges, or outlier decks that have an absurd match against an existing metagame, sometimes it pays to go through each significant strategy and how it’s currently being used. Even if all this does is tell you something you already know, it serves as a reminder of what’s important and what isn’t. On the other hand, sometimes it allows you to discover either an overlooked deck or overlooked strategy that varies from the version seeing play.
Today we’ll be going over a mix of the popular and overlooked strategies in Extended and how they currently exist in the metagame, as well as potential variations on the themes.
Elves — In essence, this strategy is simply winning before the opponent can possibly hope to mount their own attack. The strengths of such a deck are obvious: you can win before many decks set up, and because, unlike normal storm decks, your resources are typically reusable, you have a board position even after a fizzle. There are also alternate ways of winning the game that don’t involve casting an arbitrarily large Predator Dragon or lethal storm card. A resolved Tar Fiend will almost always be game by depleting all of the opponent’s resources while leaving a small army on the table. Elvish Champion or Mirror Entity can end the game simply by playing guys out and fetching your pumper instead of going through combo hoops.
The main weakness is oddly intertwined with its strength. Because the Elves deck can reuse resources so easily and establish a board position before comboing out, it becomes vulnerable to board control as much as stack or hand disruption elements, if not more so.
Due to the linear nature of the deck, there are only so many slots that can be changed, and that means adaptation of the strategy isn’t really possible. I mean, there are certainly variations on the actual kill mode and argument over the best tutor cards, but as an actual strategy there’s mainly uniformity. What might be changing soon is how aggressive the deck can become post-board, from a creature beatdown standpoint. The addition of multiple Elvish Champions and Coat of Arms is a possible plan in the future, and you don’t want to be caught off guard when you fight Elves that can’t be blocked.
Life from the Loam — This is one of those strategies that seem too strong not to find a home when we get into the season. Patrick Chapin already showed off one possible version, abusing Gifts Ungiven and using Life from the Loam as its main engine to gain card advantage and abuse cards like Worm Harvest. Past that, the other obvious applications for the card are abuse with midrange control decks that look to take control of the board.
The downside with this sort of plan is that they tend to be loose against combo, but on another hand, creatures are the easiest thing to get a handle on. Running a few cards like Slice and Dice and Engineered Explosives could put a crimp in many people’s game plans against these slower Loam decks without losing anything card-wise.
Astral Slide and company spring to mind as viable uses for the card, considering there are plenty of cycling cards that can keep Elves from beating you on turn 2 or 3, and Slide on a Kitchen Finks is going to keep you alive for a long time. Even Lightning Rift could be usable once again, not only as removal, but to pick on Fae and Zoo decks willing to trade life to get some of their key cards working.
Seismic Assault may be awfully lonely without Terravore and Devastating Dreams, but the card is still absurd with Life from the Loam. Without a Counterbalance lock to hold down Loam recursion, not a whole lot of decks can answer a resolved Assault. It keeps the board clear against Elves (at instant speed!) and basically wipes the floor with most other decks by just doming for six to ten a turn. Although you lack the obvious supplements, you still have the defensive stuff like Wall of Roots, Firespout, and Engineered Explosives. Wild Nacatl and Tarmogoyf are already a set of pretty imposing creatures if you want to be aggressive. There could definitely be something here… it just really depends if the CB/Top lock being gone means Loam is ridiculous enough for this format.
Obviously, there are some major flaws with Life from the Loam decks. Graveyard hate severely cripples the power of Loam in the first place, and Chalice of the Void at 2 can completely shut down the engine. Decks with the ability to target individual pieces of the strategy, like Faeries, Bant aggro, and others can kneecap the deck by destroying the useful pieces while beating down though or over Wall of Roots and Goyf. Storm combo, although pushed to the side recently, will absolutely demolish certain iterations of the control decks in which Loam is amazing, simply because they aren’t designed to deal with it at the moment.
Blue Artifact Control – The Tezzernator, Mono Blue Control, or whatever you’d like to call Blue control decks with Chalice of the Void and Tezzeret, have shown up into the format with force. The exact builds will likely change now that the surprise is out, but the core of the deck is simple enough to deduce. A set of Chalice of the Void, at least two Engineered Explosives, some amount of Vedalken Shackles, and then a set of tutorable artifact answers. Trinket Mage is also very likely, though not necessarily a given, since you could theoretically build heavy-mana versions of the deck around Coalition Relic and company.
Effectively, the plan is to eventually set-up a soft lock on the board and either power through a win with Tezzeret or Master of Etherium directly, or slowly peck away by abusing Academy Ruins recursion to keep the opponent locked forever. So few decks have real answers to Chalice of the Void and Shackles combined with Academy Ruins that it becomes as good as any Mindslaver lock you used to set up with Tron.
The most likely variation is a build that’s effectively mini-Affinity. Builds that enjoy the same Chalice of the Void plus counter set-up against Elves and other combo, while taking on aggro decks head on with Master, Myr Enforcer, and a multitude of Engineered Explosives. The upside about taking this sort of approach is you not only gain a large threat that can trade early and be recurred, but you can also gain access to Thoughtcast as cheap immediate draw.
Of course, one of the main issues all of these decks share is a glaring deficiency against aggressive decks that are simply too fast on the play and sideboard cards in general. Zoo can race Tezzeret decks on the play without any real issues, and it takes a very special kind of draw to have any chance against All-In Red. Meanwhile, Ancient Grudge and Kataki, War’s Wage can be a heavy burden on mana and cards, keeping your artifacts alive to actually impede the opponent’s strategy.
Martyr-Proclamation — This is one of those decks that’s effectively an aggro-smashing metagame strategy, so why bring it up in a metagame full of combo along with the usual aggro strategies? Well, with Shards, we’ve now got the one piece of the puzzle this type of deck has never had – Ranger of Eos. This strategy now has a cheap versatile tutor that can find Martyr of Sands, Martyr of Ashes, and Kami of False Hope. To top if off, Figure of Destiny and Feral Hydra serve as perfect finishers that can be found via the Ranger.
For those who are lost on what I’m talking about, the Martyr cycle of creatures has quite a reasonable cost for their effects, and since they sacrifice to use them; they become perfect compliments to Proclamation of Rebirth. At some point in the game you’ll go from being a control deck to a lock deck, since the majority of decks simply can’t beat an uncounterable life-gain source of 12-15 a turn. Originally this deck used the Tron engine to power out Proclamation early, and still featured huge effects to break the game open against other control. Order of Whiteclay is a more recently printed option that allows us the opportunity to recur Martyrs at half-price, but only against decks that won’t simply remove or block and kill the poor man.
Obviously this strategy isn’t perfect. It requires a delicate split of colored cards to consistently use Martyr of Ashes, a necessary evil due to Elves combo. However, if you test it, you’ll find Elves takes issue with a deck using a sweeper that just sits there and can’t be hit by Viridian Shaman. Even moreso, it puts them on a clock, because eventually you’ll have enough mana to clean the board and then recur the creature to do so again. You have an end game other than just trying to kill them before they run you out of ways to clear the board. Order of Whiteclay is especially good here, simply because they have no way to deal with him and his four toughness puts him out of range of your own sweeper effects.
Powering out your Proclamation or simply getting Ranger plus other spells on the same turn requires a significant mana investment. Tron lands are a bit too slow and unwieldy for the format, so instead my first inclination is to abuse Sakura-Tribe Elder and Wall of Roots. Not only do they provide some early defense, but they don’t make mere coloress, which is huge. Alternatively, something like Coalition Relic also works well here. You can rig it for multiple mana on a turn where you absolutely need to do multiple things at once, while still being able to tap out for it on turn 3 and having a colored mana available if needed. Of course there’s also the possibility for a six-pack of Cloudpost and Vesuva. You’ll still have room for the colored sources
Aggro decks like Zoo are simply outclassed from the word go. Not only can you gain 9-12 life every activation, but you run multiple types of sweepers and the other stall / acceleration cards like Sakura Tribe-Elder and Wall of Roots. I’ve already explained why such a strategy won’t simply fold to Elves. The main issue that remains is figuring out the best way of fighting control decks and I believe that could simply be fetching Feral Hydra and slamming it as a 6/6 or 7/7 and pumping it. It ranges out of Shackles and EE range, while also being able to trump any creature in combat. The one drawback is Bitterblossom still beats it, but nothing is perfect. Eternal Dragon is another card with some early game value and can still be used successfully against current control decks.
Storm combo would probably be the worst possible match-up, but the metagame isn’t really conductive toward keeping that deck around. The main strategy weakness is how much graveyard hate hurts it. Some people will say Chalice of the Void, of course, but it only blows out 8 cards or so and realistically you don’t really care about a bunch of 1/1 guys in a control mirror anyway. No, graveyard hate is the most annoying because the main way you’ll be finishing control mirrors is using recurring threats, and that’ll take it away from you. Aggro decks suddenly only have to worry about small bursts of life-gain or Pyroclasm and then they just continue beating down.
Storm Combo — Storm combo has some of the most room to evolve in the current format. Chalice of the Void may be around in force to stop it, and Faeries also isn’t that fun, but it’s still a deck that consistently goldfishes on turn 4, and it can beat control via Gigadrowse. The key is going to be figuring out the correct proportion of Tarfire, Gigadrowse, and Pyroclasm to beat the combination of counters, Canonist, and Elves in the current metagame. Of course, this assumes the deck can support all of this in the first place, and if it’s more worthwhile to explore this over just playing Elves.
Alternatively, if a version of Ad Nauseam can turn 3 consistently, it could be worthwhile simply to roll the dice against Elves and come in from a different angle against the rest of the field. You still get cards like Thoughtseize, Chain of Vapor, and Echoing Truth to force through an early combo; it simply becomes a matter of how consistently you can Ad Nauseam without killing yourself in the process.
A possible variation is moving toward an All-In Red version of Storm, but abusing Spinerock Knoll and Empty the Warrens along with a ton of burn. This gives you a more spread-out approach of taking on certain kinds of creature-based strategies instead of trying to win it all off a huge creature. Then again, tapped lands are pretty awful, so it could just be that All-In Red is the future, just dumping the Blood Moon effects for less sucky cards.
Obviously there are more strategies in Extended, but going over all of them is simply unrealistic. With luck you’ve got some ideas, and next week we’ll be covering Standard in preparation of the upcoming StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open tournament.
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom