I had my first PTQ of the early Extended season this past weekend, and I learned a lot in my stupendous 2-2-drop performance. I played against three match-ups I felt prepared for, in Blue Valakut, Zoo, and RGW Punishing Fire, but for some reason I kept falling short during the games, as if I were playing a turn behind them the whole time. I didn’t do any extensive testing, but I felt this deck had a decent shot and enough strong cards to at least propel me to a Top 8 in the smallest PTQ I’ve ever played (boasting a lean field of 84 players).
In hindsight, this is actually pretty bad for your expected value, since all the people who really wanted to win and are capable of putting up wins are still there. It was like cutting the fat off your T-Bone steak; the field was highly saturated with good players, and it showed since I had to play four tough rounds with this brew…
The basic premise of the deck is to have a quick start and a fighting chance against the majority of decks I’d play. I always wanted to play a deck I was at least familiar with, and this looks very similar to my King in the Castle deck from a couple of years ago, with the early accelerants and a decisive Trinket Mage package. Playing turn 1 Noble Birds into Clique is about the best way to start an Extended game I can think of, outside of Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame, Seething Song, Deus of Calamity, Mass Hysteria, bash you.
I was also really in love with the singleton Tolaria West toolbox, which can grab any of the zero-cost artifacts along with the Academy Ruins. This is the type of deck I like to play at the beginning of the season, when the format isn’t as defined and streamlined as in the later weeks. If I don’t end up making a Kiki-Mite combo deck, I’ll probably end up playing this deck again this week in Fort Worth. It felt smooth, but was lacking… something. Spell Snare would solve a lot of problems, but I’ve no clue what I’d cut yet to accommodate.
When I was discussing decks with Billy while coming up with rough drafts for the deck I wanted to play a week ago, he said he’d like to play a super fast Zoo deck game 1, and then board into Glare of Subdual circa PT: Honolulu#1. I wasn’t too hot on the idea at the time, but slowly Glare made more and more sense, given how many decks need to attack and rely on Umezawa’s Jitte, Baneslayer Angel, or one big dude to win the game like Mistbind Clique or Woolly Thoctar. In this deck it makes even more sense. I’ve got the Trinket package and Vendilion Clique to shut down the combo decks that aren’t Scapeshift, so giving my Noble Birds more value later on by turning them into Fatestitchers is extremely profitable in certain match-ups.
Chalice of the Void is excellent opposite the rare Loam decks when set at two. Elves set at one. Zoo set at one or two, depending on what they’ve got going already. It shuts down Punishing Fire, and it’s good against Affinity at two. You can randomly shut down Scapeshift’s Farseeks, Rampant Growth, Tribe Elders, and Remands if you can get it down quick enough… however, this isn’t the ideal plan against them. It’s a good game 1 plan against Hypergenesis, coming down turn 2 for zero after playing Bird into Trinket Mage. If you land it for two against Dark Depths, they are also in a world of hurt unless they’ve got a Repeal handy. Those silly Bant decks with Meddling Mage, Qasali Pridemage, and Tarmogoyf will have a lot of trouble winning. Basically, because I’m skipping my two-drop slot via Noble Birds, Chalice gives me a very realistic means to create a soft lock, giving them lots of dead cards while my midrange deck with small creatures can beat down.
Pithing Needle is another great non-Scapeshift combo stopper right now. Against Dark Depths you name Hexmage. It’s really great to stop Cranial Plating and Ravager. Effective at preemptively stopping Sakura-Tribe Elder, but if it’s just sitting in my hand I also don’t mind naming Scalding Tarn or Misty Rainforest against Scapeshift. It’s piss poor against Zoo, but it stops their Jitte’s and Pridemages for game two, so make sure you don’t board â€˜em out. It stops any of Tezzeret or Elspeth’s potential planeswalkery plots from proceeding. It stops Thopter Foundry, Knight of the Reliquary, Vedalken Shackles, and Drowned Rusalka too, which are keystones for their deck’s ability to win.
Engineered Explosives is the tutorable removal spell, usually being at its prime set on one or two against Zoo, two against Bant, or three against Hypergenesis to get rid of their annoying Ardent Plea. [To the forums! — Craig, amused]
Relic of Progenitus really isn’t that great, but it stops opposing Tarmogoyfs, and is at least a card I can cycle if my other targets aren’t relevant. I have better answers to Punishing Fire and against Dredge I need something quicker like Tormod’s Crypt, but having an alternate “remove your graveyard” to avoid their Needles is also important.
Sigil of Distinction is the best of the artifacts, basically being a Fireball you can tutor for which gives the Noble Birds, Trinket Mage, Vendilion Clique, and especially Rhox War Monk much more value. The real blowouts are when you raw draw it and completely throw off their math because of the funky equipment no one expects.
The rest of the deck is Path and Cryptic, which are obviously excellent resilient spells that can help me out of lots of problematic situations. Tapping their squad with Cryptic is even more devastating in Extended than when we remember it in Standard because the creature quality is so much better, giving you better dudes to attack with while holding off a better horde of creatures.
The sideboard just fills out and focuses the artifact angles. Spellbomb is there to have a tutorable way to answer a Dark Depths. The War Monk is there so I can max out on him against the Mono Red decks that have a tough time dealing with him. Glare of Subdual enables me to beat up on the likewise midrange decks that try and use Baneslayers and Jittes to win the attrition war. Negate gives me the best answer to Scapeshift available. What are they going to do? Remand it? Pfft, I’ll just re-cast it, or pay the X from Condescend. I should be able to put enough of a clock on them to force them to go off without adequate protection most of the time. Negate also gives me a great card to board in if any of my artifacts just aren’t cutting it. I just wish this deck had some card draw like Ancestral Vision, Brainstorm, or Ancestral Recall.
I had a hometown PTQ to defend, and with Bant deck in hand along with a hearty seven hours of sleep the night prior my mind felt poised to sling some spells that Saturday.
Round 1 — Zach playing Blue Scapeshift
Zach is the guy who beat me in the top 4 of a PTQ last year playing Five Color Cascade and had the Cryptic Command advantage over me. This time around I was the one with the Cryptic Commands in my arsenal, while he was stuck playing crappy spells like Condescend, Remand, and Rewind!
I board out all my dead removal and realize just how many bad cards I have against Scapeshift, but as long as I draw the core of my deck (fast creatures, counters), I should be in prime shape.
Game 2 I get a turn 2 Vendilion Clique and see that he has no Green mana and a hand full of Blue disruption, so I let him keep it and focus my Negates and Cryptic Commands to deny his Search for Tomorrow and Tribe Elder once he draws into a Green. Meanwhile I’m beating down with an Exalted Clique which puts him on too short a clock to draw out of his mana problems.
Game 3, he doesn’t have any mana problems. However, when he went for it I had Negate, and since he only had Remand he couldn’t stop Scapeshift from being countered. Then I got in there with a Tarmogoyf that picked up a Sigil for lethal.
Three close games, but after the match he said if there was one deck he didn’t want to face it would be Bant, since they have a quick clock and counters to throw him off. Finally justified for that quadruple Cryptic Command beating he gave me back when I was set on Q’ing for Austin, giving me a 2-1 lifetime record against the young PT-bound upstart.
Round 2 — David Shakarisaz with Zoo
Dave is a solid player who I coincidently sat next to round 1. He announced that he was playing Zoo for the first time ever. I couldn’t believe him… He is a dedicated PTQ player who is always putting up solid finishes; however, if he has never sat down with Kird Apes, Nacatls, and Helixes in his grip, I’m not so sure he has the tenacity that I initially expected. I mean, everyone plays at least a few games with Zoo each season to get a feel for where it’s at and how to beat it, right?
Game 1 I get a double Goyf draw while he is stuck trying to Molten Rain my lands. He gets too far behind to really do anything, and gets stuck in chump block mode before I kill him.
I feel pretty confident going into game 2 since I’ve got the Glare sideboard incoming, while boarding out a couple Cryptic Command on the draw because they’re too slow.
He kills my Birds with a Helix and beats me down with one-drops. Typical Zoo game, I’m light on mana and don’t have the ability to drop my Trinket Maged Explosives for two and blow it to get rid of his two Qasali Pridemage and Tarmogoyf, so I lose.
Game 3 I get a promising hand with Glare. However, he’s got a pair of Pridemage and two Goyf I’ve got to deal with again. I blew my first Explosives on his Steppe Lynx, and again I’ve got a mana problem which stops me from playing Explosives for two and blowing up his board, so I’m stuck bouncing my Goyf with his while he leaks through damage. Eventually I Trinket for an Ancient Den, but it’s still too late. He swings team with five creatures, I got to one, and he’s still got a Nacatl in play so I can’t wipe his board with Explosives.
I felt like I was in all three of these games, but I missed on land and didn’t draw Rhox War Monk once so I feel a bit deprived. Still, the fact that these games were so close gives me a bit of faith in this deck’s ability to battle with Zoo. I might need some Threads of Disloyalty if I want my Zoo matchup to be very consistent. Tarmogoyf is a pretty good creature.
After two hard matches in a row, I high-tailed it with Benito to a delightful Asian restaurant, with massive servings when you consider the low six-dollar lunch special. It came with soup, egg roll, rangoons, a huge heap of fried rice, and whatever main course of our choice. I love hole-in-the-wall Asian joints, and this is one I’m going to make habit of frequenting from now on whenever I’m on that side of town. You may not believe it, but you’re burning lots of carbs when you play a strenuous tournament, and keeping food in your tummy goes a long way at keeping your play smooth and consistent.
Round 3 — RGW Punishing Fire
This was a joke of a match. Game 1 I Clique him turn 2 with a Noble Hierarch, see a clogged up no removal hand filled with slow RGW cards, so I let him keep it. I Trinket up a Sigil next turn and drop Needle to stop his Elspeth, then suit up Clique to make him an eight-powered attacker, dropping him from 16 to 8 and leaving him on a one-turn clock.
Game 2 he had a quicker draw with Nacatl, buy my Goyfs were brutal on defense while Vendilion Clique picked up Sigil again to seal the deal.
Vendilion Clique is the best Blue creature ever printed. Better than Morphling, better than Ophidian, better than Psychatog, better than Teferi, and definitely better than the very influential Mistbind Clique. Especially when he gets +4/+4 routinely from a tutorable equipment spell…
Round 4 — James with Blue Scapeshift
Despite the morbid loss, I like the deck a lot. But it feels like its missing a card or two. Perhaps Ancestral Vision, Thirst for Knowledge, or a Gifts package. Just some more Blue cards to help me sleep better at night. Like I said earlier, I’m going to try and put together a Trinket Kiki-Jiki/Pestermite deck featuring the Gifts package of searching for Reveillark, Body Double, Kiki-Jiki, and Pestermite, along with a host of good Blue spells, backed up by Vendilion Clique. I’ll see how that goes, but if it doesn’t work I’m probably going to end up Banting the weekend away again.
Thanks for reading.