Since my return (I guess my hiatus of two weeks out of three a while back was the Flores Friday equivalent of a full year sabbatical) StarCityGames.com readers have asked me to start work on Extended rather than Standard. I think I made a really good Standard deck for the metagame, actually, but Worlds is over and done with, and the only people who can benefit on a legitimate scale are JSS kids… So with the PTQ season less than one month away, Extended it is!
Inspired in part by my man Shaheen Soorani at Worlds 2006 and in part – believe it or not – by Star City’s own Ben Bleiweiss in this week’s “Building on a Budget” over at the Mother Ship, I decided to try some big mana UrzaTron-style in Extended. In reviewing the archetype U/W UrzaTron list from Online Tech and looking over Ben’s list, which seemed more focused on a sick Mindslaver game plan more than anything else (whatever Wurmcalling) I decided that there was no reason for White, and little reason for Green (you win this round, Martin Luther Wakefield!).
The issues as I saw them to begin with:
Freeing up one of two colors (White or Green) let me try to go to UU cards, and my choice was, and is, Counterbalance. Side note: Is Counterspell dead? I considered Boomerang, Condescend, Memory Lapse, Remand, Spell Burst, and Spell Snare, but never once was the original in the running.
Here is the first version I tried:
The solution to the no Wrath of God / no Oblivion Stone (I hate that card) problem was Culling Scales and Repeal. Repeal is a card that has jumped in my estimation thanks to good buddy Patrick Sullivan, who said it was the scariest card to play against with Boros (read: beatdown)… I play Repeal all the time now, in various decks, even though I once hated it due to Sadin’s comments during Charleston testing. I have wanted to run Culling Scales plus Sensei’s Divining Top [again] for more than a year. That combination was the defining triumph of Kuroda-Style Red, and it seems like it would be great both against 2/2s and the Signets of other big mana decks. I saw Josh beat innumerable White Weenie players at U.S. Nationals 2005 who slapped down Auriok Champion with Worship in hand, thinking themselves hotter than a Johansen-Jolie sandwich in sunny San Trope and him kolder than kolderson himself; he’d calmly kill all their guys and then burn them out (nice Worship)
This stage was where most of the difficult cuts occurred (Elephant Method). It hurt to lose Memory Lapse, and even the fourth Mindslaver. I think I was a bit schizophrenic on my finishers suite, and ended up with only two Triskelions for tap-out monoliths (nothing I love to do more in Blue than tap the hell out, as you know). The first version reeks of compromise… It should maybe have two more lands (more later).
In most U/W ‘Tron decks online, this will be Memory Lapse. My first 80-card listing had both Memory Lapse and Condescend. The theory is that Condescend will help you find your ‘Tron, and is therefore a correct four-of.
This is one of my favorite cards, chronicled as far back as Attacking Skullclamp in 2004. The incentive to going mono-Blue instead of U/W or U/G is that I can run Top plus Counterbalance, and Culling Scales fit into that schema (with Top) as an additional and powerful synergy like Jason Zila and Jon Finkel under the romantic Paris sky. With Sensei’s Divining Top, you can keep Culling Scales in play indefinitely by flipping the Top on upkeep after targeting it, or manage the opponent’s permanents each turn from your end step (if he has twos or even threes). Theoretically, Culling Scales should manage the Boros permanents down low while Counterbalance deals with the burn, both laced together by Top, given sufficient speed. Also, see below.
Fact or Fiction
How sick is this card? I’m always desperate to tap out for Compulsive Research. When was the last time I gamed with real Blue cards (not like “Careful Study” or something) in Extended?
This is the boom hiss bang bang of the deck. Big mana plus game winner plus Academy Ruins is a straight up cheerleader pyramid in the deck (infinite Time Walks with no chance of being decked).
Another card that helps to dig up the ‘Tron and can help early defense. It is a killer against Standard Boros, and quite frankly, Extended Boros is not that different. This is a good Alpha stage card at least.
Thirst for Knowledge
This card might actually be better than Fact or Fiction in this deck due to the artifact density and potential combinations with Academy Ruins. Really four Fact or Fiction and four Thirst for Knowledge is a lot of firepower in the card advantage department.
Triskelion is a very solid monolith in this deck. I found it useful in staving off Dirty Kitty beats and it is an expressly powerful threat… and answer. I never really liked Triskelion before, even though it has been in the game since before I was playing… however, Chapin pointed out to me why it is a stronger card than I had thought. It is very Keiga-like in tap-out potential, and probably better given the presence of big mana, Thirst for Knowledge, and Academy Ruins.
This card was the whole point of the deck… It’s like Osyp told me right before I convinced him to play some Goblin deck, “They didn’t test this with Top, they never should have printed it, and they’re going to ban it… But until they do, we might as well play it.”
One criticism Josh had of Shaheen’s 5-0-1 deck was that Condescend isn’t even the best XU counter to play in a ‘Tron deck. I think that finding the ‘Tron is more important than doing specific insane stuff after you’ve already found it (when you should probably be doing some insane thing). However, especially in a straight Blue deck it seems like there is value in maximizing the ability to find the ‘Tron (four Condescend and four Remand) and locking up the game afterward, hence the 4/4/2.
I learned a lot from and with the initial version of the deck: The most important seems to be that three out of every two Extended respondents in the Tournament Practice Room will be playing DougP Goblins and / or Dirty Kitty. Okay, the actual most important thing I learned was that I have no clue how to play current Extended. I think that I probably should have won all my matches but I was clocking in at about one game in between two and three. I would tend to get a game per match, but lose to lucksackery, shenanigans, or deez nuts when, if it were Standard or some other format I understood (like Ice Age / Alliances 1996) I would be squeaking in the dubyas. The worst play of this era of BlueTooth Counterbalance was the game where I raw dogged the ‘Tron on my opening seven but played Island on turn 1, Tower on turn 2, and inexplicably Island on turn 3 versus either Boros or Dirty Kitty (some Red Deck). I could have slammed down Triskelion or at least run out Counterbalance plus Sensei’s Divining Top with that second Island, but instead played Culling Scales, which just got killed to death, losing a game where I probably should have won in a blowout. I think that the fault at this stage definitely lies with YT and not the deck concept, even if it needs tuning.
I didn’t like it, and I don’t like to admit it, but Culling Scales was underperforming. I guess that even in Kuroda-Style Red we were sideboarding the Culling Scales combo and not starting it (Culling Scales is quite weak against TEPS, for instance). Also, I found myself siding out Fact or Fiction quite a bit because I didn’t really know what else to do. That sent me to this slight tweak on the deck:
As usual with any deck that has non-curve based two-ofs, the ugly numbers in this deck are noncommittal, meaning I wasn’t sure what was the right full remove, so I went half with each of the cards I saw as underperforming early. The Triskelions and Repeals were there to help with board control. I was doing fine if I could stall into an inevitable manabase, but getting there was an issue. Triskelion doesn’t look like much, but he’s actually trump on the board most of the time unless you are facing combo.
This version was doing much better but the main issue was lack of UU. Like former Grand Prix and Pro Tour standout (and scourge of the StarCityGames.com forums) Ryan Cimera smashed me with TEPS in a practice game because I didn’t have UU. I might be mis-reading the format (I certainly lost to Ryan because of this), but it seems like if you have Counterbalance in play with this deck, TEPS is in a bad spot. Ryan started on double Lotus and I was about a turn off of my second Island, even with Top. In the second game, Ryan again had double Lotus on the first turn, but I got March of the Machines down immediately before they came into play. He basically went all in with his lands; I put him on a bad read for Mind’s Desire, but he was actually just jacking Storm count with Infernal Tutor and Burning Wish to set up a perfect Tendrils… Perfect because I Condescended him into exactly the mana and Storm count for twenty (I told you I need to learn this format). Ryan actually dared me to Memory Lapse him, but I cut that card!
Figuring out that UU was what I needed, I swapped the manabase to accommodate more Islands. The only way to do this was to go Cloudposts instead of the ‘Tron. I had been thinking about the Cloudpost engine but there are several minuses to it. One is that your mana is much harder to manage. All your ‘Posts tap for the same X, so you will commonly mana burn, it is cumulative with opposing ‘Posts (which has surprisingly come up more than once so far); the most important reason, and the initial reason I went with the ‘Tron, is that your lands come into play tapped with the Cloudpost configuration, even Islands when you are copying with Vesuva.
This deck wasn’t perfect but I think I got like 3-0 before realizing that amateurs don’t know how to split a Fact or Fiction (key for PTQs). When the opponent flips two Urza’s Towers and two Spell Bursts and has the Mine and Power Plant in play, you put both Towers against both Spell Bursts and whatever the fifth card is! What kind of horrendous idiocy is it to let the opponent pick Tower, Burst, X over Tower, Burst? He will take double Tower every time, but at least the Spell Bursts – probably the most broken available post-‘Tron effect – will be out of the way.
Once I figured this out, supplemental monolith Meloku went back to a sideboard singleton and I went back to four maindeck Fact or Fictions. Meloku isn’t actually that great in this version because you don’t ever want to pick up a Locus. It comes [back] into play tapped, queers your mana count, and so on. I might actually end up picking a different supplemental.
Somewhere along the way, Echoing Truth replaced Sun Droplet. Mark Young was watching one of my matches and commented that I would have beaten Dirty Kitty easily if I could have dug to Echoing Truth. I had multiple Droplets in play, but even gaining four life per turn, I was not going to beat the Warrens. Echoing Truth would have made short work of the situation.
This deck isn’t a finished product by any means, but I really like the direction it is going. At the point that I am happy with it from MTGO testing – provided I get there – I will probably go to serious archetype fights against the key players (Boros, TEPS, and maybe two or three others from the top of the metagame) and report incrementally.
Here are some things that I am thinking about at present:
– The deck probably legitimately wants 25, not 23, lands; Josh thinks one of them should be a second Academy Ruins. I think that some number of Flooded Strands or Polluted Deltas would make sense. You want more lands, but you don’t really want to long game so many; also Onslaught sacrifice duals (even in a one-color deck) can help out with the Top.
– As fun as Repeal is against Pithing Needle or a beatdown deck with Call of the Herd, a cheaper bounce spell might be desirable. I haven’t lost to any Akroma reanimator decks yet, but it has sure been close.
– Some kind of Stifle seems like a fine addition. That card counters problem cards like Mindslaver and Zombify, not to mention randomly manascrewing the opponent, or even just fighting a Goblin Legionnaire. I am seriously looking at this for a sideboard card… Given that it is good against Goblin Warrens, might this beat out the cat.
I hope you enjoyed this one. Until next,