Extended, 7 Ways

Tuesday, December 7th – Extended is barely a format anymore – in that almost no one plays it. Sam Stoddard has been running the Extended two-mans and wonders why. This format’s awesome!

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to have to start playing more Magic Online if I want to be competitive, especially at Constructed which is my worst format. I’ve generally championed the importance of paper play over electronic, but my schedule and the amount of time I can dedicate to actually testing Magic would be far better spent doing it online rather than in person. I still prefer the social aspect of playing with my friends at my local game shop, but any playtesting that gets done takes forever and is against a very small subset of decks.

There are just too many homebrew vs. homebrew matchups that don’t tell you much about the format at large, or how your deck will actually perform at a real tournament. I may not be able to beat your Turbo Felidar Sovereign deck but is that a concern? I crush 32 one-drop Goblin.dec but is that really going to matter? And when someone is playing a real deck for testing purposes, are they going to do the deck any justice? Are you casting your Mistbind Cliques during my upkeep or during my combat phase to kill a creature as well as tap me out? Over-committing to the board when the correct play is to play it safe? All of these can end up as false-positives, telling you that you and your deck are prepared to battle, when in fact, you aren’t even close. 

This is, I think, why so many PTQers tend to underrate the top decks in the format. When Faeries and Affinity were the bogeymen, they should’ve rightly comprised over half of the metagame. The decks put up an absurdly high number of Top 8 appearances and had win ratios far higher than their percentage of the field. Yet, everyone I talked to seemed to believe they had a great matchup against those decks. They were either packing their maindeck and sideboard with hate or playing decks that naturally were supposed to beat the bogeymen. Then, when push came to shove in a real tournament setting, they ran into someone who knew how to play around Volcanic Fallout or how to set up their Affinity board so that even

their opponent had two Oxidizes, they could win the next turn. And they lost, generally dazed and baffled, spouting about how they were “

beating it in testing.” I really didn’t want to be that guy this time around.

Since we have Extended coming up as the PTQ format at the beginning of the year, I put together a Merfolk deck on MODO and headed off to play in some Constructed events. And nothing outside of the Tournament Practice room ever seemed to fire. A similar fate befell the Winter King held by Bluegrass Magic in Kentucky a few weeks ago. Their Saturday Standard event had well over 200 people, but they could barely get 40 for their Extended tournament the next day. The people who played were generally enthusiastic about the format, but the attendance told a different story.

I asked several people who had attended the Standard and not the Extended tournaments; most gave me the same answer. They didn’t have a deck, didn’t know what to play, and were generally waiting for a real event before they started with the format. Pro Tour in Amsterdam should’ve acted as a great kicking-off point for the format, but the majority of decks where so full of Time Spiral cards that it was hard to get a real read on the format. The ubiquitous Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows dominated most decklists and warped the format even further.

This is a brand new format, and even though the card pool isn’t as large as it was, the massive rotation has made most of the old lists obsolete. Luckily, nothing is changing for the first half of the PTQ season, so any work you put in now won’t be wasted if Mirrodin Besieged comes out with an overly powerful new archetype. This format should be a deckbuilder’s paradise, but I haven’t read much from people on the format yet. Since I’ve spent the last two weeks going over decklists and playing Extended in the tournament practice room on MODO , I can give you my immediate take – this is a fun and exciting format.

The good news is this: Right now, Extended is relatively cheap. Lorwyn and Shards cards saw dramatic price drops when they rotated out, and they haven’t gained much since. Noble Hierarch and Knight of the Reliquary are below $10. Cryptic Command and Bitterblossom lost half of their value. $30 Reflecting Pools are down to $6. Not only that but Jace, the Mind Sculptor hasn’t shown itself to be a dominating force in the format just yet. Not every deck is inexpensive, but there are plenty of great options that are. Also, if you still have a deck together from Shards/Zendikar Standard, you probably have a reasonably good Extended deck.

To help out even more, many current Standard decks can be played in Extended with some slight modification, which wasn’t true in years past. Valakut, in particular, could be adjusted into an Extended list with under $50 of cards, and be Tier 1. This may not be the Extended that we’re used to, but that’s okay. With any luck, it will be a much more accessible format, and hopefully we’ll see it become a real format that has non-PTQ events.

The format is wide open. I’ve compiled a few decklists, but they’re just scratching the surface. Some are conglomerations from decks I’ve played against on MODO, some are from the Winter King, and others have appeared on a variety of other sites. I’ve done my best to try and give credit where credit is due on decklists I’ve found from other sources, but I apologize if anything is misattributed. The majority of these are just small updates from old Standard lists, not brand new lists taking advantage of synergies spanning all four sets. When the real deckbuilders get a hold of this for Chiba, we’ll hopefully see just how far this format can be pushed.

Currently, the format is dominated by creature-based strategies, most fairly aggressive. It’s probably one-half “control decks are harder to brew” and one-half “Holy-Creature-Power-Creep, Batman!”, but be ready to kill dudes if you want to play Extended. The cheap creatures are hyper efficient (Wild Nacatl, Figure of Destiny, Goblin Guide, Putrid Leech), and the more expensive ones generate card advantage (Kitchen Finks, Vengevine, Bloodbraid Elf, Primeval Titan). 1-for-1 removal spells are just not efficient at beating these kinds of threats, but if you don’t pack some of it, you’ll be overrun by the time Day of Judgment comes online. And even then, your opponent will follow up with a creature that requires you to deal with it immediately.

If the Extended format is defined by anything else right now, it’s the lands. Filter lands, fetchlands, Reflecting Pool, and tri-lands mean that even three-color decks can operate without too many games being decided by color problems. The Scars lands should finally come into their own when people start playing them in aggro decks, and the vivid lands make playing 5-Color Control decks easy to never get color-screwed. Mutavault is back, just as efficient as ever, and we still have the Worldwake manlands. The creature decks can take a real beating and still have plenty of fuel left to take you out.

The other thing that this format is good at is cheating things out. Vengevine/Fauna Shaman is as good as it ever was in Standard since we have Bloodbraid Elf again. Dredgevine too comes back, this time with a much less awkward mana base. Hideaway lands are back, but now we have Eldrazi to cast off of them, not just Ultimatums. We’ve been marveling at the power of Primeval Titan to get out Valakuts, but now we get to combine him with Scapeshift for an even more reliable and fast kill.

The Beatdown

I think the best place to start for decklists is to look at what kind of clock Extended is looking at. The aggro decks in this format are fast, and they have real removal. If you plan on building anything, you have to expect to be able to defend against decks that will turn 4 goldfish you – so don’t plan on running sixteen vivid lands just yet.

Nothing is safe – not your creatures, not your lands, not your face. RDW has carved out its niche over the last few years of being the deck in the format that will always beat you if you aren’t prepared for it. In the larger scheme of things, this deck isn’t doing anything inherently unfair, but it’s as efficient as an aggro deck can get right now. Having a full sixteen haste creatures makes the deck very resilient to Wrath, and it’s not hard to burn your opponent down from ten life. Not only that, but having Figure and Demigod means that even a land-heavy draw for the deck isn’t going spell doom the way it would right now in Standard.

This deck isn’t great at stopping the combo decks from doing what they want to do (other than, you know, burning), and the ubiquitous Kitchen Finks is as annoying as ever, but at least Plated Geopede and Figure doesn’t trade with them, Hellspark Elemental will mitigate the life gain for one more mana, and Boggart Ram-Gang will keep them from coming back.

I have a feeling this isn’t the deck you want to be playing in the format, but it’s the deck you need to be prepared to deal with. It’s relatively inexpensive to build and will punish any mistakes on the opponent’s side of the board.

The Control

As always, control decks tend to be less prevalent in early days of the format. It’s hard to have all of the answers when the questions aren’t clear just yet. Still, there are two great contenders here for being staples in the format. For anyone who isn’t used to playing with real counter spells, you’re in luck.

This is the deck that technically won the Winter King (1st in Swiss, and they chopped the Top 8 without playing it out), though that was a 40-person tournament, so don’t take it as gospel. It’s very similar to the old 5-Color Control decks in Lorwyn-era Standard, but you get a much better creature set. Wall of Omens provides a much-needed speed bump on turn 2, and both Baneslayer and Grave Titan seem to be strict upgrades over Broodmate and Oona, Queen of the Fae. Runed Halo is an important card right now, as it gives you a good answer to the Scapeshift/Titan decks that are very easy to port over from Standard and even protects you from Mistbind Clique. Lightning Bolt gives you another cheap removal spell, so you should have at least a fighting chance against the universally fast aggro decks.

As with any control list early on in the format, it’s probably playing a lot of incorrect answers, and the sideboard is a bit more mish-mash than I’d like, but it’s a good starting point for what these decks are going to look like for the upcoming season.

Aggro-Control (a.k.a. Cryptic Command Decks)

These obviously aren’t the only decks running Cryptic, but it does seem to be the defining card of the decks. The quality of weenies in blue may be leagues below those in green, white, and red, but those colors don’t get the ability to tap their opponent’s team and draw a card. When you’re playing with, or against, these decks, Cryptic Command is the card that’s probably going to define how your matches end up.

I originally had a much worse list, but the incomparable Jarvis Yu shipped me this one, which is much more refined. People have been bemoaning the death of Faeries for a while, but they’ve clearly never played with four Cryptic Commands and four Mistbind Cliques. You just win so many games out of nowhere with a progression of semi-Time Warps for three turns in a row. If there’s ever a deck that you shouldn’t count out of the metagame, this is it.

This is a far more controlling version of Faeries then I’ve seen many run, and I think it’s a better way to play the deck. People seem to like Scion of Oona, but I think it’s very poorly positioned right now – it takes three to get you out of fallout range, and it doesn’t generally speed your clock up enough to justify the slot.

It should be noted that the sideboard has some great answers for the much-feared Great Sable Stag. Instead of wasting time with sacrifice effects, it goes for the far less conditional and far more game-winning Molten-Tail Masticore and Wurmcoil Engine. Suck it, Elk.

This is the list I started off with on MODO, since I randomly had a good number of the cards. It’s much more resilient to Volcanic Fallout than Faeries due to having twelve lords and the sideboarded Forge-Tenders. I don’t particularly like the Banneret, but I haven’t decided on a good replacement yet. When he’s good, he’s fantastic, but that generally involves hands like Island, Mutavault, two Stonybrook Bannerets, two Merrow Reejereys, and a Silvergill Adept. Turn 4 kills with Fish are fun but not common. What’s surprising is the number of turn 5 kills the deck can achieve. I tried running Sage’s Dousing originally, but I found the card to be underwhelming in every way. Half of the time I drew it, I’d rather have drawn a Mana Leak, and the other half I’d have taken almost anything else. Preordain was much better for digging for Cryptic Command when you want them, or another Merfolk to trigger Merrow Reejerey and force through lethal.

There’s an alternate version of this that my friend Dave Nolan recently ran to a Top 8 finish at the Winter King in Louisville Kentucky that replaces some of the Merfolk Sovereigns with Grand Architect (who conveniently survives Fallout) and takes out the Stonybrook Bannerets for Molten-Tail Masticore as an aggro trump that provides a good deal of reach.

The Midrange

It’s fashionable to bash midrange as a Tier 1 strategy, but when it’s good, it’s good. It just so happens that two of the best midrange strategies of the past three years are available in Extended, and they both saw some serious upgrades since they were the best decks in Standard.

Oh, Jund with good mana and a turn faster clock. How can you not like it? Another deck that Jarvis Yu helped me out on, with some mana-base smoothing and the suggestion of Chameleon Colossus. The Scars lands really shine here. Sygg adds a good way to draw cards, and Boggart Ram-Gang is about the best card ever to hit off of a turn 4 Bloodbraid. Jund still suffers from the same problems it had before, where it often can’t race ramp decks fast enough and can be hampered by the token strategies, but it has a fairly good matchup against the rest of the field. If I were playing in an event tomorrow, I’d run Jund without question.

Currently, I’m running Jund Charm over Fallout due to ‘Lark and Vengevines being very good against the deck, but that’s just a metagame consideration. Both of those cards do provide some real problems for the deck, but if they aren’t popular at the moment, run Fallout instead.

Speaking of token decks…

People seem to have forgotten just how good B/W Tokens was. Spoiler Alert: the deck was awesome and is still awesome. Frank Lepore posted this decklist, and I’ve had to play against in with Jund a few times, and the matchup is just miserable. It may have had something to do with my opponent having a turn 2 Bitterblossom every single game, but it’s hard to both deal with the tokens and try to win at the same time. The deck isn’t blazing fast, but it’s resilient and does some very unfair things. Because of Faeries, it does suffer some splash hate with all of the Fallouts running around, but it has more than enough token generation to recover from one or even two. Monument isn’t exactly a bad answer either.

The Combo

 Extended has always been a format that has been defined by combo. Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles, Trix, High Tide, Life, TEPS, Dredge, Hypergenesis, Dark Depths, the list goes on. It’s not easy to balance out seven years of sets and keep more than a few broken combos from popping up. That was then; this is now. Four sets is a much more reasonable size to keep combo as a viable element without it becoming obnoxious, though the Scapeshift deck comes very close to that.

You may remember this deck from your FNM last Friday. Not much has changed with the core of Valakut Ramp, but what has changed makes the deck much better. There was a question as to whether Scapeshift could survive the loss of the duals, but let me tell you, it has. Primeval Titan’s ability to not only ramp out Valakuts, but to beat for six makes this deck into one of the top contenders early in the season.

Having both Scapeshift and Primeval Titan makes the deck far more resilient to both countermagic and discard. Resolving one or the other generally means you’ll win. Resolving both means you do win. Even Memoricide doesn’t do a whole lot against the deck. This isn’t the most interactive deck, but you’ll almost always have a good matchup against decks without counterspells.

The Wild Card

All of the decks above are really Standard decks with some modifications. There’s a lot of room to innovate with decks that either weren’t Tier 1 in their day, or simply never existed. We haven’t seen much of this yet, but here’s example of what we might be looking forward to.

This is by far the least refined deck of the bunch, but there’s just something so sexy about a deck with twelve lands that tap for any color of mana and enter the battlefield untapped. In fact, only six of the lands in your deck

tap for any color. This deck pretty much defines the concept of good mana.

Elementals isn’t the fastest deck on the list, and it isn’t the most powerful. What it does, however, is keep going and going and going. By turn 3, you’ll probably be attacking for 4-8 damage a turn, and it’s very hard to slow it down. Vengevine provides the deck a reusable source of damage (yes, it’s an Elemental, and yes evoke does count as casting a creature spell), and the Fauna Shamans can ditch Vengevines while getting utility creatures.

I don’t feel this list is nearly done, but it’s a good start. Elementals, like many of the other decks on the list, does have a hard time with the burn deck, and it can have a hard time with the ramp decks. At least you have Fulminator recursion to try to keep the Valakut count to a minimum and keep hideaway lands from untapping. It may be stuck as a Tier 2 deck, but if you want to play something different and fun, this is a good deck to try.

Again, I don’t think any of these lists are perfect, but I hope they provide a good start for the upcoming PTQ season. There are still plenty of broken interactions to mine for fun and profit. Mimic Vat, for example, seems like a great place to store a Mulldrifter or Shriekmaw. The Elf deck may no longer be able to go infinite, but three Nettle Sentinels and a Heritage Druid into Regal Force can probably win the game still. Emrakul is going to be hiding underneath some Windbrisk Heights and Mosswort Bridges, I can tell you that much for sure.

Esper, too, should see some good lists. Having blocks with strong artifact themes, and no Shatterstorms, should make the strategy ripe for mining. Time Sieve gets Mox Opal to speed it up and a few other options for Scars cards to add into the mix. Esper Aggro may be viable with such cards as Memnite, Mox Opal, Court Homunculus, Ethersworn Canonist, and Tempered Steel. Pili-Pala and Grand Architect can generate an infinite amount of mana, and if you have Thousand-Year Elixir, you don’t even need to wait a turn.

If you’ve seen any other lists that excite you in Extended, or if you think you have better versions of the above lists, post them on the forums. And please join the Extended queues. It gets lonely in there all by myself.

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Samstoddard at gmail dot com