Down And Dirty – Metagaming Extended: Top Worlds Decks

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Wednesday, December 17th – In our second look at the current Extended metagame, Kyle Sanchez looks at the stronger decks from Worlds and examines the makeup of the blossoming format. He breaks down the decks into the Big Three, and looks at some of the more popular fringe strategies…

The 2008 season is over and done, which is truly startling since it feels as though it just began with Shuhei taking down that first Grand Prix last December. To me, 2008 represents the return of the original superpower of Magic. 2008 represents a triumphant year amidst a shabby economy. 2008 represents fortitude, for without it we would still be States-less. 2008 is frustration, which is an ever-present feeling I get whenever I log onto Magic Online. 2008 is change, because when the going gets rough, the rougher Wizards gets with us… which led to an inevitable forced hand of grand mistakes. 2008 represents community, because in these troubled times and chaotic circumstances, it was the rock during those turbulent days.

No, I don’t think 2008 was a bad year. It was just different. Between huge schedule changes (fewer PT/GPs), several reconstructions (States, Pro Player System, MTGO), and several layoffs (Invitational, JSS/MSS), I think we as Magic players have handled it pretty well. 2008 has been an extremely controversial year, with many message boards across the interweb blowing up over each of the above topics. The important thing is that people care, and that those people are getting their word out. If you have a genuine opinion on anything, it’s in your best interest as a player to voice them, which is a trend that has picked up even in our state of decline.

A big congratulations to everyone who has put themselves out there; don’t stop, as the future is what we make it.

But I’m not in a depressing retrospective mood today. Grand Prix: LA is my next target, and I’m going to spear that beast hard. I’ve been so immersed in Standard recently that my loins are cravin’ some Extended lovin’, and what better place to cough*start*cough than the best decks from Worlds?

Going into Worlds, Berlin is fresh on everyone’s pallet, which intuitively suggests that there will be more dedicated plans to deal with the Elvish nemesis that sprung up in Germany.

From the Worlds coverage, we can get a pretty clear view of the current metagame from Bill Stark analysis here.

All this basically tells us is that Faeries, Elves, and Zoo are the decks to beat, and everything else is a low percentage fringe deck. These are the healthiest types of metagames, especially since, from my understanding, the Big Three all have ways to maneuver around each other to gain an advantage.

However, that’s not as important as the number the three combined represent. 60% of the field will be Elves, Faeries, and Zoo at whatever PTQ you play, from now until LA, including the Grand Prix itself. I’m not sure I’m getting my point across fully, as this will have a massive impact. In an eight-round PTQ, you’re almost guaranteed to play against one of the Big Three five times. This makes it a much more consistent Extended metagame than I’ve ever seen before.

So, the Big Three…

Faeries – David Irvine

This is a pretty traditional Extended Faeries list. Bitterblossom maindeck, the usual suspects in Vendilion and Spellstutter, with some light Mistbind and Glen Elendra peppering. Engineered Explosives is the hottest card in Extended right now, and Dirv chose to run it alongside the ever-popular Academy Ruins, the most prevalent “combo” in 1.x.

Dirv managed a 5-1 record with this deck, finishing .7 away from a Top 8 birth behind fellow American Jamie Parke, who was the only American this year to lose in the finals of a PT.

Japanese Faeries – Kenji Tsumara

As many big Japanese names as I can count on both hands played this version of the loosely defined “Faeries” archetype. Screw Bitterblossom, just give me a Blue flier and a Jitte and I’ll make Magic happen. Mana Leak has become the two-mana counter of choice again, giving those textless beauties a little more value for the time being.

This deck is really impressive on all levels. Not only does this list make Azami look like the neatest 0/2 since horny Orni in Affinity, but a pair of Riptide Laboratory makes all of those mediocre looking 187 critters gain a ton of value. I would honestly go as far to include two, but given the other bomb colorless lands it’s a rough one to pull out.

Minamo is another eye-catcher that few have adopted. There’s no Keiga in here to lure a Giant Solifuge attack like Minamo’s previous stint in Standard, but untapping a Vendilion Clique and trading with a Wild Nacatl is a super-relevant play that can turn the tide of the damage race.

The sideboard is far more decisive than we’re used to in Japanese sideboards. There are actually three cards that are four-ofs. It appears 2008 really is the year of change…

I’m not sure who came up with boarding Bitterblossom, but I’d bet money it wasn’t an ass American, buffoonish Brazilian, or emaciated European. Nor a dirty Dane, auspicious Australian, or Kamikaze South Korean. Something so genius and creative could only come from a toddler’s imagination, which commonly resides where? In the jubilant Japanese!

If I had to pick up a random deck and play in a PTQ unprepared, I would, without a doubt, play this list.

American Faeries – Paul Cheon

Although this deck was created by Gabriel Nassif prior to Berlin, I’d still like to think of it as American Faeries since a) Gabe Nash is an honorary American and b) more name Americans played this list at Worlds than any other region of the World.

I prefer the Japanese take on the Mono-Blue Control deck more than this, but you also have to consider they excluded Thirst for Knowledge in exchange for Ancestral Vision. This is pretty intriguing that two powerful core group of players came up with a different draw mechanism. Usually by the time get to the upper echelon they already have the basic things figured out, like the best one-drops to play, best removal and mass removal, and what’s the optimal card draw.

Personally, I think the U.S. got it right… Ancestral Vision just seems far too slow for a format like Extended, and is far more vulnerable to the popular permission spells. Stifle? Spellstutter Sprite? Both are highly played, and if you’re expecting those I don’t see how you can opt for Visions over Thirst for Knowledge. Still, the Japanese represented this deck well, so which is right? Whenever I ask myself that question, I always double check myself by asking another question immediately after: Is either one wrong?

That’s an even harder question to answer, but given the lack of artifice magic in the Japanese decks I can understand their reasoning, however slow and predictable it might be.

That’s a pretty wide variety of decks to include in the “Faeries” classification, and the last one only has seven actual Faeries.

Elves – Frank Karsten

This is Frank’s list, and I wouldn’t question any deck Karsten tested in preparation for a tournament. I believe the Mirror Entity version of Elves to be superior to the Mono Green version, and the main deck Thoughtseize is another innovation that Frank mastered his way into, along with a simply stunning manabase.

I’m not sure I’d raw-dog two Thoughtseize in this deck, but I’m having a hard time finding a cut other than a land for the third copy. My issue with the Seize-slot is that it brings down the fluidness of the deck, taking away from either the board production or tutoring spells, while contributing only as a card that will hinder the opponent to a marginal degree considering there’s no similar follow up to provide a back-breaker.

This is the Elves deck of the future, and earned him 14 crucial points to secure his Top 8 birth on Saturday. This deck is so good that I’m not even going to bother including the trashy Mono Green versions with Predator Dragon.

Zoo — Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

There’s really not much you can do in Zoo design nowadays. Like I mentioned earlier, once you figure out what’s most optimal, you can’t skew from that path very easily, and Zoo is a perfect example. It’s had the same 4 Tarmogoyf, 4 Mogg Fanatic, 4 Kird Ape, 4 Lightning Helix, 4 Tribal Flames with 20 or so lands for the past few years now. Wild Nacatl provided yet another high quality one-drop, throw in some Jittes, replace Vindicate with O-Ring, and the handy dandy Tidehollow Sculler, and you’ve got a very potent Zoo cocktail.

Sculler and Nacatl really have added a lot of power to the Zoo deck to help it keep up with the non-fair decks that use Blue cards. That’s really all I’ve ever seen Zoo as. A fair deck, a deck that I wouldn’t want to play in such a deep format as Extended. However, if current trends hold true, we’re faced with an increasingly small Extended field with little innovation on the horizon. That means Zoo will be a solid choice no matter what tournament you enter, and it can explode out of nowhere just as quickly as the wielder of Elves.

Zoo — Gerry Thompson

GT went with a similar build featuring Shadow Guildmage, which provides a few interesting interactions. For one, combined with Tidehollow Sculler it effectively turns every WBU into “remove target card in target player’s hand from the game.” Not the most exciting usage in the world, or realistically plausible by any means, but still an extra ability to have on tap is always gravy. He’s mainly in there to contest opposing bite-sized critters.

Zoo – Mike Thompson

Mike chose to place his Zoo next to a river, enabling Rhox War Monk and Threads of Disloyalty. This is effectively the Zoo deck that beats other Zoo deck, using Blue cards to gain an otherwise unattainable advantage. I don’t think the Monk is big enough to risk investing three mana in him, but if he does go unanswered he will likely swing the game heavily in the favor of his master. He dodges Red removal like Firespout and Lightning Helix… however, he’s still susceptible to the usual Black crowd of Smother and Terror.

Those are the best of the Big Three, but there are plenty of other decks that deserve notice too. Here are a few of the more resilient decks that I expect to stay around.

Mono Red Burn – Zack Hall

Despite having a poor showing at Worlds, Zhall finished out the swiss on a 15-point tear during the Extended portion. I really doubt Darksteel Colossus is in the deck, but I’m assuming they are Darksteel Citadel to provide some artifact munchies for Shrapnel Blast. This deck still had a very strong showing despite its basic nature. If all of your spells average 3-4 points of damage you’ll only need to draw 6-7 spells a game. With 21 lands and 39 spells you’ll have the seven spells by turn 4 if you’re on the play, not to factor in spells that can go for five (Shrap, Marauders, Vortex).

Every time I see a Red deck like this, it’s always the same, but perhaps this is the right environment for it. Such a single-minded fundamental plan exemplified by the tremendously deep card pool. This is that annoying deck you lose to playing for Top 8, and if a master like Hall was piloting it, it earns some reps in my eyes.

UB Tron – Aaron Nicastri

Recently crowned rookie had a monster of a deck choice for the Extended portion. A Tron deck featuring the inspiring Night of Souls Betrayal. He only got 13 points with it, but this is a fresh new look at Tron with a very potent enchantment that can surprisingly lock a bunch of decks out of the game.

Tezzerator — Kenny Oberg

This one, I’m not too sure about. Out of the 14 piloting, only Oberg and two others ended with a record better than three wins. That’s pretty bad, but I saw it coming after building this deck the other week and playing with it a few games. It’s not as efficient as it could be; what it needs ,I’m not sure, but the ten games I played with it I felt like I should be doing better than I was.

I just want to make sure you didn’t see this deck win the PT and built it with full confidence. Oberg is the only one who can get this specific build to work, which is how decks like this go down until that person explains how you’re supposed to play it. He did earn a 5-1 record with his pet deck, but I wouldn’t pilot this deck in the most clear skies since it creates its own turbulence. Sometimes you just sit there with a bunch of do-nothing answers to threats they don’t even have, and on top of that, Tezzeret isn’t even an effective engine in my eyes. He costs five, and a lot of the time I’d like to just use him to untap some lands to set up a kill next turn, but the deck is lacking artifact lands to make it happen.

Honestly, the fringe decks don’t seem as exciting or streamlined as the Big Three right now. But all it takes for the fringe decks to flourish is time to work the kinks out of them, and with such a big break in big tournaments, the fringe decks look pretty tempting…

Thanks for reading!


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1) I Was A Cloud — Shearwater
2) On The Water — The Walkmen
3) Holy Dances — Beach House
4) Reverse Pimpology — Immortal Technique
5) Nylon Smile – Portishead