Deconstructing Constructed – Trends in Extended

Read Josh Silvestri every Tuesday... at StarCityGames.com!The results from the Kentucky Blue Grass Open are in and you can see all the lists here. So what does all this mean for you and the Extended metagame? We now have some idea of what decks have and haven’t replicated results in some fashion. In addition, we can also take note of alterations from previous iterations (if there are any) and get an idea of what Lorwyn has brought to the table.

[A1] Data and notes
[A2] PT Junk (Doran.dec)
[A3] Counter-Top Goyf (Remi.dec)
[A4] Affinity

The results from the Kentucky Blue Grass Open are in and you can see all the lists here. So what does all this mean for you and the Extended metagame? We now have some idea of what decks have and haven’t replicated results in some fashion. In addition, we can also take note of alterations from previous iterations (if there are any) and get an idea of what Lorwyn has brought to the table. First, let’s review and combine the sets of data we have.

Data Set from the Top 8 of the Worlds PTQ, Kentucky Open and Valencia.

PT Junk (Doran Aggro) – 4 appearances, 2 wins
Remi.dec (Counter-Top Goyf) — 3 appearances, 1 win
Ideal — 2 appearances, both 2nd place finishes
Zoo — 2 appearances
Tog — 2 appearances
U/W Tron — 2 appearances
U/G Tron — 2 appearances
Rock/Gifts Rock — 3 appearances
MUC — 2 appearances (The withheld 3rd place list from Kentucky was a MUC variant)
Affinity — 1 appearance

Broken down that gives us high numbers of decks that just want to bash face and control decks looking to stall until a major trump gets online. The midrange Rock decks fell a bit out of favor compared to the Doran builds at least as far as successful builds go in the past two to three weeks. This is especially true online where a huge number of people switched to the Doran builds, eschewing Gifts Rock which was previous the deck to beat. PT Junk, also known as the Doran deck, has gone up in popularity immensely online and the few builds that were a bit optimized made T8 or otherwise did very well at the Kentucky Extended Open last weekend.

Let’s break down the newer PT Junk lists. Here’s the one that won the $1500 Extended Kentucky Open.

Owen Turtenwald, 1st

The core of each build seems to be 3-of or sets of Doran, the Siege Tower; Loxodon Hierarch; Eternal Witness; Dark Confidant, and Tarmogoyf. Spell-wise, Cabal Therapy and Vindicate are the common threads from some of the older versions floating on MTGO (which I’m sure have already been updated). Notable omissions from this build are maindeck equipment or Pernicious Deed. In addition, Smother is still maindeck over Putrefy or Shriekmaw, both of which have been seeing increased play on MTGO in these types of builds. The manabase is of particular interest just because of the Shizo (And in LaPille’s build, Okina) for Doran boosting purposes.

You’ll notice that the maindeck is well equipped to deal with Counterbalance due to the number of mana accelerators, along with the six maindeck discard spells. This means even an early Counterbalance can be “raced,” in the sense that before the Top — CB set-up is complete, Doran or Goyf could have already hit the ground and be in a position to attack. Or a turn 2 Vindicate on CB while the CB Goyf / MUC / Chapin.dec is tapped out. Even if “locked out” by Counterbalance, the lock requires a decent amount of mana and floating of cards to keep a deck like this locked out for multiple turns, and it’s open to sneaking a small spell through here or there. These few points of damage that can be enabled by any early creatures and Treetop Village can be leveraged when Profane Command comes online and starts a comeback. Post-board, Indrik Stomphowler hits a mana cost that most decks don’t even run.

Vedalken Shackles on the other hand is more of concern, seeing as how Doran can be stolen on a whim, as can really anything else except Tarmogoyf. The deck still has the wall of discard and Vindicate to battle it, but I really can’t see it ending well if Shackles hits early and isn’t dealt with ASAP.

On an anti-control note though, I’m very happy to see a full set of Treetop Village, AKA Bobtown* in these decks. Right now only Spire Golem or Tarmogoyf is a real effective answer to these lands from most decks, otherwise control has to leverage its little instant speed removal / bounce spells against them or just keep spiraling down in life. Village is rarely even a detriment to your normal mana development with the extra acceleration guys and the fact that you normally won’t be attacking with it until after turn 4 anyway.

* Bobtown; because it Beats on Blue.

Profane Command is easily one of the more ridiculous effects you’ll see coming from the PT Junk and Rock decks this season. Although largely ignored by the Gifts Rock segment, the card has grown in popularity online slowly but surely in the more aggressive Rock (Now Doran.dec / Junk versions) variants. What makes Profane Command so good? I’m glad you asked, since it puzzled me at first as well. When you have so much mana to spend, surely Gifts Ungiven is just better… except it’s not, since Gifts is unwieldy and, despite being capable of being used as a scalpel, requires a ton of jumping through hoops. Sure, you can use it to break a stalemate, but that’s over multiple turns.

Profane Command essentially wipes out a stalemate or recovers a slightly ailing board position in one swing. Casting Profane Command at four mana likely returns a large Tarmogoyf while killing off a Dark Confidant or Trinket Mage on the opponent’s side. At five you get Eternal Witness to bring back Command and get to do the Time Warp, er… another Profane Command next turn. At this point I’m sure you get the idea behind Profane Command, and I could go on with the insane plays you can do with this card… so I will.

At six or more mana you pretty much can’t lose if you had any board position at all when resolving Command, because you either get to swing with huge men that now have fear while burning the opponent, or bring back your biggest creature while killing their likely biggest man.

Consider this board position from an actual game:

G/B/W Doran has 6 land, 1 card in hand and a 4/5 Tarmogoyf in play; with eight life left.

The opponent has Remi.dec (Counter-Top Goyf) with 5 land in play, Sensei’s Divining Top, Counterbalance, Pithing Needle on Pernicious Deed, and Meloku along with an Illusion token and a Trinket Mage in play. He’s at roughly 15 or so life.

Doran casts Profane Command, killing off Meloku and recurring Eternal Witness, which returns Profane Command back to hand. In response to Meloku’s incoming death, the Illusion count goes up to four, leaving one mana open to Top. Tarmogoyf swings in and knocks the Remi player to 11.

Despite the opponent’s best effort, he can’t kill the Doran player from eight in one attack or draw a Counterspell to stop the incoming devastation. The Doran player draws and lays a 7th land and recasts Profane Command , burning him for 5 and giving Goyf and Eternal Witness fear to swing through the Illusion tokens for the win.

All that said, Profane Command is quite expensive to use effectively, so multiples aren’t really recommended. That’s pretty much it for the downside. When I first saw the card I was a bit skeptical, even though on paper I could see some of the advantages of having this late trump. After playing against it on MTGO on a number of occasions and trying it out myself in a modified Junk deck, I find it to be one of the scariest cards any aggro or midrange player can run up against.

Usual differences on MTGO involve Shriekmaw, which has the fun ability to kill Tarmogoyf through a Counterbalance and just be really annoying in general. Sakura-Tribe Elder is another fun favorite, because you’re bound to run into Zoo and it goes +2 life and +1 land for Junk (at which point the only conceivable reaction from Zoo is to scoop on the spot.) In addition, a Dredge player that hasn’t gotten rolled by Leyline of the Void yet at some point in the tournament becomes even more inconvenienced, since now all the Bridge from Belows randomly go away.

That’s about it for the love fest on the PT Junk decks. For the most part Ideal is a throw away match, because 6 discard + Vindicate just isn’t enough to get it done game 1 unless the opponent had some miserable draw steps after a successful Therapy. And if they run the Draco-Explosion combo, odds are they can win via that as well at least some of the time. Gaddock Teeg is a fun stop-gap though, which makes the post-board games less lopsided, and Indrik Stomphowler might be able to steal games as well if Ideal doesn’t Deed the board first.

Oh, and Affinity is not a fun match either, in large part because they often kill on turn 4, or at least point a major clock at you from multiple angles. Against most builds with no Deed in the maindeck, this is often incredibly difficult to overcome, and after boarding Pithing Needle is around to invalidate that to an extent and just wreck face. Kataki, War’s Wage is still an amazing counter to Affinity, but has only been seen in limited degrees. In addition, thanks to Drum and Star converting mana, it’s easier to run Darkblast, Smother, Seal of Fire, or other colored removal / bounce. Although I haven’t had a chance to test the most recent builds against Affinity, I somehow doubt a major change will occur here.

Since Remi.dec won the Pro Tour I haven’t seen a whole lot of changes made to the deck. Part of that is just because the deck was pretty good to begin with, but another part seems like people just haven’t been updating the deck to the metagame and are instead relying largely on Counterbalance-Top and Umezawa’s Jitte combined with the ubiquitous Tarmogoyf to carry the day. In fact, to some degree you can say Chapin’s deck is an extreme of the deck archetype, as if you were to skew it toward a more aggressive MUC deck.

Alternatively I’ve chosen to stick with what works, although I’ve made modifications to the original list to help out against certain segments of the field.

4 Island
1 Swamp
4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
2 Breeding Pool
1 Watery Grave
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Steam Vents
1 Riptide Laboratory
1 Academy Ruins
3 Chrome Mox
4 Dark Confidant
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Trinket Mage
2 Tombstalker
3 Vedalken Shackles
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Engineered Explosives
3 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
3 Counterbalance
3 Spell Snare
3 Ponder

4 Leyline of the Void
4 Steel Wall
4 Kataki, War’s Wage
1 Pithing Needle
1 Meekstone
1 Vedalken Shackles

There are three main alterations. One is the use of Vedalken Shackles over Threads of Disloyalty. This change was made in large part because Threads just couldn’t steal the cards I needed. At many points I would simply need to take a creature that wasn’t a Tarmogoyf, such as a Meloku, Doran, or other higher mana cost creature with low power. Unfortunately that wasn’t an option with Threads, by taking a drop in percentage against Zoo decks you gain a much more versatile answer to aggressive decks and can leverage your initial drops into time for Shackles to take the game over if necessary.

The second change was the addition of Ponder ,which is just ridiculously good with Sensei’s Divining Top and Fetchlands in general. On turn 1 in Vintage you’d often want a Ponder over a Brainstorm, and the same applies here, especially if you want to keep some of the less mana-friendly hands and need immediate digging to ensure you hit mana.

Finally Tombstalker was added to give the deck some sort of finisher that was immune to most commonly played removal, and was cheap enough to be cast and reasonably protected by counters while on the stack. Consider that Tombstalker is immune to nearly all the removal played in BWG, U/G, and Zoo decks, and you can figure out why having a few as finishers strike as a good idea. Although I like running a Meloku out for a brand new army as much as anyone, the number of times you need to tap out or go to one mana for it is pretty high, and even disables the emergency bail out switch of making 5-6 tokens in response to removal. Although I loves me some Tombstalker, two is as far as I’m willing to go at the moment because of concerns with the anti-grave synergy and Dark Confidant, although between Ponder and Top the odds of hitting Tombstalker outside of turn 3 are slim.

I was having issues with certain builds of Zoo and realized my main ways of winning with the original Remi deck were just getting CB online on turn 2 or getting an early Jitte going. To that effect I decided to up the Jitte and Spell Snare count to help the games where I’m on the draw so I could effectively buy back some of the tempo I lost. Also the sideboard addition of Steel Wall meant I could have early defense while also having a cheaper alternative to EE against Zoo and other aggressive BGW decks. A four toughness wall can stand up to the majority of burn being thrown around and certainly against any early game creature that isn’t Arcbound Ravager. Even assuming they hit it with a burn to finish it, that’s at least 4 life saved from a one mana investment. Worst-case it gets nailed by Ancient Grudge post-board, but they need to spend half a turn to a full turn of mana to cast it and it’s one less aimed at Jitte or Shackles.

The rest of the board is effectively a no frills package designed to help your rougher match-ups while adding a bit of redundancy against large creature packages, three of which can be tutored up via Mage. Aven Mindcensor is another consideration if you expect more Ideal than graveyard based decks, which is certainly looking like more of a possibility as time progresses.

From my experiences, the Zoo match isn’t fun and you typically are a slight dog game one, while post-board is typically even with the edge sliding to whoever is on the play. You have a reasonable game against most other green based decks, if CB-Top gets online early you’ll almost always win with any reasonable follow-up and really only Profane Command or Genesis recursion is a scary proposition if the game goes long.

On MTGO just about every second or third match I have on there is against an Affinity build. I don’t know where the sudden explosion in popularity came from, though I suspect part of it had to do with Bill Stark releasing his most recent Springleaf Drum build. In any case, Affinity has returned to some semblance of the glory days and should be given proper heed from sideboards or even maindeck hate. The deck can easily score turn 4 wins, even in the face of a removal spell or early blockers.

In fact, thanks to Drum the deck no longer has to entirely rely on the broken Arcbound Ravager / Cranial Plating starts. It’s much more reasonable to now support laying multiple Affinity creatures on turns 1 and 2 and simply relying on a single card in hand or topdecks. I’ve lost a number of games to opponents essentially laying their hand on the table and then drawing into one of their many “deal with me now or die” cards and killing me within a turn or two. Realistically the deck can have up to twelve cards that just say you lose within the span of a turn, Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, and Atog. The first two can be dealt with via Ancient Grudge, while the latter is best beaten via Smother or Putrefy.

As far as Fatal Frenzy, Shrapnel Blast, and Tarmogoyf go, you have the potential to see any of these from Affinity and all can vastly affect your strategy which just gives another boost to the Affinity deck. Fatal Frenzy can mean a Myr Enforcer or Frogmite with Plating equipped you planned on chump blocking with Mogg Fanatic or Trinket Mage can suddenly become huge and trample over for lethal. Although this play can be telegraphed due to the narrowness of Frenzy itself and the three mana required to cast it, that doesn’t make it less dangerous for most decks. It especially hurts decks like Ideal which can typically race Affinity or simply drop Confinement one turn before going off to act as a fog. By increasing the turn 3 and 4 kill counts, these matches are noticeably better.

Shrapnel Blast is in the same vein of Frenzy in that it’s a useful finisher and can completely screw up assumed plans. Shrapnel Blast even moreso at times, because it can seemingly come out of nowhere to strike you down into a lethal attack or remove a key blocker. Losing your two biggest creatures to a block — sacrifice play can just be backbreaking. Thankfully Shrapnel Blast is more easily dealt with than Frenzy simply because Spell Snare hits it and Counterbalance has a decent chance of countering it even blind. Also, you only take five damage from it, which although very painful, decks are used too from playing against Tribal Flames for so long now.

Tarmogoyf is more of a long-game option than both the previous, but is still quite effective in actual play. It can become a 3/4 or 4/5 quite easily just by a Fetchland and an Arcbound or Frogmite dying early on. Later in the game it can grow to the vaunted 6/7 size and end the game in a few shots against nearly anyone. Although you give up some early game explosiveness, you gain a card that isn’t affected by traditional hate cards. A card like Kataki or well timed Ancient Grudge can devastate the Affinity board, but Goyf will always come through it unscathed and likely bigger for the efforts.

The Affinity deck is still prone to being blown out by cards like Kataki and Pernicious Deed if it gets to the point where it comes online. That’s a pretty big ‘if’ in many games since even with early blockers an Ornithopter or Blinkmoth Nexus can become a 9 or 10 power killing machine that just flies over and drains half your life. Typically I find Kataki, War’s Wage to work best if you can only leverage a few cards against Affinity, but otherwise Ancient Grudge and burn can also work wonders post-board. Despite this and the traditional opening hand variance associated with the older Affinity builds, the newer ones require serious consideration.

Personally I prefer Tarmogoyf over Fatal Frenzy just to help against some of the hate; though I think Atog has a place in the deck simply because its damage potential is through the roof. But I also can’t fault anyone for choosing Frenzy or Shrapnel Blast until there’s some significant data in one direction or the other. At the moment Affinity is set-up well since it can effectively goldfish most of the field, although Dredge and Breakfast can race, the fact that Affinity can choose to go up to 4 Tormod’s Crypt and a number of Pithing Needle at no real cost to the deck is a real boon. Ideal… well, unless you have Cabal Therapy there isn’t much you can do if they goldfish turn 4 or lay a Confinement to fog. Against the rest of the field, you look pretty good overall though. Good luck if the deck catches on and you start seeing the mirror… no idea what breaks that match game one, let alone the board games unless you roll out Ancient Grudge or Smother (of which the opponent can run the same set-up).

That’s effectively all the new data we’ve received along with the start of a possible new trend on MTGO. With luck you’ve gotten some new ideas or at least reconsidered where your deck stands in the metagame. If nothing else you got to see what won the Extended Open and that should tide you over until the Star City Games Extended Open in a few weeks.

Next week I’ll be off, after completing a full year of consecutive weekly articles. Enjoy the rest of your holidays.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: JoshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom
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