Down And Dirty – Pickled Popcorn Potpourri

Read Kyle Sanchez every Monday... at StarCityGames.com!
I don’t know why, but I’ve been building Extended decks. I guess I just want a new format with which to experiment. I’ve been playing freaking Slivers at my past couple of FNMs, and while fun, I really want to play with some expensive cool-looking cards. As I said last week, I’ve been trying to graft the Counterbalance plus Sensei’s Divining Top combo on to a bunch of decks, so here are two more of my semi-successful attempts.

A massive bag of popcorn found its way to my doorstep when a friend acquired it through a giveaway at the new Papa Dean’s Popcorn store. Apparently I was pretty low on the popcorn-giving totem pole, and the only bag she had left was pickle flavored. I’m a big fan of pickle-flavored potato chips, though I usually won’t pick them over a good White Cheddar Cheez It, or a Payday, or Goldfish for that matter. But #4 ain’t bad.

It also depends on what the weather is like outside. I’m much less likely to pick up a Cheez It on a hot day, because I won’t want to fumble with the small packaging. The Payday is much more portable and easier to consume. However, on a warm spring afternoon I prefer Goldfish over pretty much all. Mainly because they go hand in hand with Nestea lemon, which is obviously my favorite drink on warm Spring afternoons. Which also means that Pickle Chips wouldn’t be a good snack for a warm Spring afternoon, because it pairs badly with lemon-flavored things.

Luckily this was not a warm Spring afternoon. Instead it was a cool summer evening, and I had pickle chips on the mind. At the time it seemed like such a good idea… if only I had listened to the miniature devil (in the form of Barbara Bush) on my shoulder.

I’m sorry Barbara, I should never have doubted you!

After I got home from a glorious Thursday mid afternoon cruise with my buddy Mike – who owns the card shop down the street, who has a smokin’ girlfriend that works at Hooters, who has a friend that also works at Hooters, who may or may not have a pair of super silicones, who I may or may not have “hung out” with a few nights ago – I decided to indulge in some pickled popcorn goodness.

Thirty minutes and four devastating gallons of popcorn later, and I honestly don’t know if I’m going to be alive to submit this article. It feels like someone took sandpaper and went Crazy Mongoose style on my lips n’ tongue. I’m trying my best to keep it suspended in the middle of my mouth so it doesn’t touch anything, but its a bad habit of mine to read what I’m writing whenever I’m in that magical “writing zone.”

Needless to say I’m there right now, and my tongue is cursing me for my greedy behavior.

Did I really need to devour all four gallons?

Well, no. But it is popcorn, and once you start eating it, someone literally has to chop your hands off and hide them behind several triple reinforced magnum-proof doors to pull you away from the stuff. The worst part is when you have to lick your fingers. There was about an inch of pickle flavoring residue still firmly attached to each finger, and after finishing each one, I started to sweat a bit.

I lied. The absolute worst part is going to be the number that pickle zest does to my innards when I finally process it. I’ll spare you the details of this one, but please keep me in your prayers.

Damn you Krista! You treacherous succubus! You knew the web you were spinning when you gave me that cursed popcorn!

I don’t know why, but I’ve been building Extended decks. I guess I just want a new format with which to experiment. I’ve been playing freaking Slivers at my past couple of FNMs, and while fun, I really want to play with some expensive cool-looking cards.

As I said last week, I’ve been trying to graft the Counterbalance plus Sensei’s Divining Top combo on to a bunch of decks, so here are two more of my semi-successful attempts.

This is a pretty straightforward Fish deck at its core. Cheap, non-threatening creatures that have awesome abilities. Tarmogoyf is the main finisher in this deck, along with some mediocre wizard beats, with Dark Confidant providing further synergies with Top. Duress will usually produce two card types in the graveyard for Tarmogoyf, and Spell Snare is another potential turn 1 play that counters a ton of the most impacting cards in Extended. I’m not too comfortable with only having six three-drops in the deck, but I can’t really think of anything I’d want to cut for another Trinket Mage or Vindicate.

The random Steam Vents is there because I was planning on having either Lightning Helix or Tribal Flames in the sideboard. Tribal Flames seems like an option that I’d like to have to finish off Control decks. I was also considering using the Scepter, Chant, Helix sideboard from last week, but I don’t think it really fits this deck.

The basic plan of this deck is to either get the Counterbalance + Top combo going early with acceleration like Birds and Chrome Mox, or set up the Cephalid Illusionist + Outrider En-Kor/Shuko combo. Or preferably, if you’re lucky, you can get both, using the Counterbalance combo to protect your other combo. The Cephalid combo can be a bit tricky, so here’s how it works:

The goal is to get Cephalid Illusionist in play along with Outrider En-Kor or Shuko, preferably the Outrider since it can “go off” at instant speed. This can be done by tutoring for the missing piece with Eladamri’s Call or Trinket Mage, or abusing all of the shuffle effects in the deck along with Top activations to sift through a ton of cards.

Once you have Illusionist in play along with Outrider or Shuko, you put your entire library into your graveyard by targeting the Cephalid a bunch of times. While doing this you will hopefully put three Narcomoebas into play, along with a ton of goodies in the graveyard.

From here you can play it safe by using the milled Cabal Therapies to strip your opponent’s hand by sacrificing the Narcomoebas or any of the other random donks you have in play, in the process you’ll also be making a few 2/2 Zombies with Bridge from Below. From there you just flashback Dread Return on your Sutured Ghoul, remove all your creatures in your graveyard from the game, making him a 29/29, bringing back Dragon Breath to give him haste, and attack.

It’s also very important to make sure you use Cabal Therapy on yourself to get any necessary combo pieces in the graveyard, like Sutured Ghoul, Dragon Breath, Dread Return, and enough power to kill your opponent. An important note is that Tarmogoyf’s power/toughness checks even when it isn’t in play, so removing it with Sutured Ghoul will pump Ghoul for six guaranteed when its removed. You could save yourself a slot by putting Krosan Cloudscraper to compensate for two Tarmogoyfs, but given the sideboard plan it is probably better to just play the Goyfs. They are also a reasonable alternate kill condition, and you can hide the deck you’re playing if you get an awkward draw and lead out with him.

There are other quicker versions of this deck that have the potential to kill on turn 2 by using lame cards like Steelshaper’s Gift and Living Wish in the slots of the Counterbalance combo. Those decks are actually probably better than this one, since they have more of the “oops I win” factor. But the goal of this article was to attach Counterbalance onto other decks, so I’m gonna stick to my guns.

Trinket Mage is one of my favorite cards in this deck (and any deck for that matter) since his utility skyrockets because he is able to search for two combo pieces, Sensei’s Divining Top and Shuko. He also conveniently searches for Pithing Needle to shut down opposing Tormod’s Crypts, along with Tormod’s Crypt to stop any graveyard-centric deck you could be playing against. Chalice and Engineered Explosives are some other options, but I don’t really feel that this deck requires either at the moment, although things could shake that up. Engineered Explosives is one of the best answers to opposing Counterbalances because you can make its mana cost higher than any card in their deck, since charge counters are only added per different color mana you spend. So you can pay 5 or 6 for the Explosives, with only Blue or Green mana spent.

Another way you could build this deck is using Flame-kin Zealot and another Bridge from Below to make a bunch of 3/3 Zombies. My issue with that is Mogg Fanatic will just ruin your combo, and you don’t really have a good answer to it. Ghoul gets around Fanatic and other sacrifice abilities that could cause your Bridge to get removed before the token ability resolves, but the Zealot plan also has the advantage of creating a mass of creatures that your opponent must deal with.

I’m not sure if this sideboard is even good, but I’m just going through transformational sideboard phase right now. Meddling Mage, Tarmogoyf, Duress, and Explosives are all pretty self-explanatory, but the Vensers, Enforcer, and Jotun Grunt are a bit strange. You have eleven cards that you definitely want to sideboard out each time you decide to “transform.”

-3 Narcomoeba, -1 Sutured Ghoul, -1 Bridge from Below, -4 Cephalid Illusionist, -1 Dragon Breath, -1 Shuko

From there you board in all your creatures, and if you would like to include Duress you just take out the two Outrider En-Kor, Dread Return, and either Tormod’s Crypt or an Eladamri’s Call. You really just have to mix and match until things make sense. The Extended format is wide open at this point, and there are a lot of subtle differences in sideboarding that you have to pay attention to.

The one-of creatures are pretty interchangeable, but the goal was to have an effective suite of creatures that you can tutor for to make Eladamri’s Call more efficient post board, and those guys are the best I could come up with.

Venser doesn’t seem too exciting in this format, but since you have so many little creatures the tempo swing bouncing a land or critical spell could provide might be worth it. He’s also there to counter potential four-drops to give you a bit more selection while using Top. Harmonic Sliver might also want to jump in the sideboard.

Another idea I was toying around with is to put a singleton Lava Dart in the sideboard, along with a Steam Vents main deck. I’m not sure why yet, but the idea of milling my library, then sacrificing a land to deal a point of damage could be useful.

The real question is if this deck needs an alternate sideboard. Throughout the history of Magic, the combo decks develop alternate sideboards to combat the opponents bringing in a large number of “hate” cards that disrupt what the combo deck was made to do.

The advantage of a transformational sideboard is that it gives the opponent dead cards, because you’ll be beating them down with efficient creatures while they have a bunch of useless cards that don’t do anything against your guys.

It’s usually a pretty bad idea to show up in an undefined metagame with a transformational sideboard because you don’t know what everyone is playing. Generally the creature boards have been developed mid to late season, where the metagame is a lot more streamlined and you’re more likely to get a positive return out of the unconventional sideboard.

Meddling Mage is a prime creature sideboard option because he can shut down the few cards that are relevant post board to your creature plan. Venser further supports this logic… however, he costs twice as much, and is legendary, so his effectiveness goes down.

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Nimble Mongoose... no, that's not right...

This deck really gives me a stiffy.

I’m really proud of the way this deck turned out, and I think it has the potential to be a big hitter in the upcoming metagame. Obviously I started with the Counterbalance/Top combo, but I really want a deck that could play a lot of basic lands to shore up the matchups against those stupid rogue decks that are going to play with Magus of the Moon and Destructive Flow. I also wanted a deck that played Vedalken Shackles, but sadly I had to cut it because I had too many cards that cost three mana already, and I needed two mana spells to even out the distribution.

The basic goal of the deck is to get a Counterbalance out to protect your Insidious Dreams. Once Insidious Dreams resolves you can fetch out Draco and Erratic Explosion, stacking Draco underneath Explosion. Then you draw for your turn and deal sixteen damage to your opponent’s face. This format in particular really supports a combo like this because so many people are stretching their manabases with fetch lands and the Ravnica duals, and in the process are starting the game at less and less life. I’d say the average starting life in Extended right now is probably in the 12-17 range. Which is one of the reasons Fire / Ice is so essential to this deck. Fire / Ice has historically been used to pick off small creatures or to tap a critical land against a permission deck, but in this deck one of its primary uses is to dome the opponent for two if they aren’t playing any painful lands.

One of the major card debates that I’m having is whether or not to play four Fire / Ice and three Spell Snare, or four Spell Snare and three Fire / Ice. Both have their merits, but I’m leaning toward Fire / Ice because you need to draw two of them to kill an opponent who doesn’t have pain lands. They are virtually even against the aggro matchups though. Countering a Watchwolf, Tarmogoyf, Tribal Flames, or Jitte can be the difference between winning and losing a game. It is also exceptional in the Counterbalance mirrors. I really want four copies of both cards, but the rest of the deck is just so tight. Trinket Mage might actually be the best card to cut to make room for Spell Snare #4, but that just feels wrong.

Another one of my favorite features about this deck is its manabase, which Ben Lundquist basically came up with. Twenty-one lands/Three Chrome Mox, and the Academy Ruins was his idea. I was actually splashing for Reclaim before he talked some since into me. Another important factor is that the fetch lands also give you a free shuffling source for Top when you are digging for that Trinket Mage, or missing combo piece. While goldfishing I was actually able to setup the Draco/Explosion combo without even using the Insidious Dreams a few times.

The sideboard is really up in the air at this point. The Cunning Wish targets are all pretty self explanatory, along with Duress. Threads of Disloyalty seems like Blue’s best answer to Tarmogoyf so far, and Affinity is looking like a serious contender now that it has a non-artifact beat stick in Tarmogoyf, but then again everyone has Tarmogoyf. Sure, Kataki isn’t the most synergistic answer to Affinity, but it was the best I could think of, and I’m too lazy to check if Energy Flux is actually legal. When I was splashing for Reclaim I had Moment’s Peace in the sideboard instead of Kataki, and looking at it further I might actually want Moments Peace more than Kataki. Affinity and Gaea’s Might Get There really don’t have a good answer to Moment’s Peace, and you can also Cunning Wish for flashbacked copies to essentially Time Walk them for another two turns.

I forgot how good Thirst for Knowledge is… I don’t think I’ve cast one since Mirrodin. It’s definitely the card that makes this deck run, along with Top of course. The ability to discard excess Tops, dead artifact tutor targets, along with drawing land and clearing a new Top is pretty insane. Ideally you always want to have an extra Counterbalance in your hand because odds are a lot of people are going to have ways to deal with it, so you rarely want to discard one of those. Strangely I also find myself removing Counterbalance to Mox a lot, so I’m not sure how much weight my “always hold an extra Counterbalance” argument holds.

Yeah, that’s all I got.

Thanks for reading,


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1) “Balaclava” by Arctic Monkeys

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3) “Sleep Talking” by Ornette Coleman

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