Feature Article – Austin Extended #1: Beatdown

Make plans to join us at SCG 5K Dallas!
Monday, August 24th – The approaching Pro Tour in Austin will feature the Extended format. While the true nature of that particular beast won’t be revealed until the release of Zendikar, the departure of Onslaught block will certainly shake the rafters. Quentin Martin examines the aggressive offerings left by this upheaval, in the first of an illuminating three-part series.

Extended has been my favorite Constructed format for quite some time. The Pro Tour will soon be gracing Austin, and many might be considered it too early to look into the format in depth as Zendikar has yet to be released. However, by far the most important change isn’t the new (now that we have M10), but the loss of the old. Onslaught block has rotated out in its entirety, taking with it many key archetypal cards and the most painful loss of all – Polluted Delta and his sac-land brethren.

These losses, and M10 rules changes, have widespread effects. Goblins and Slide are axed; the loss of cycling land also dooms most Life of the Loam strategies; Kird Ape and Wild Nacatl are worsened; Sakura-Tribe Elder and Arcbound Ravager now struggle to cut the mustard without stacked damage; Mind’s Desire, Tendrils of Agony, and Brain Freeze are gone but the Timeshifted Dragonstorm is still at large; Elves lost Wirewood Symbiote and Hivemaster, along with Birchlore Rangers; and Fae lost Riptide Laboratory. That’s just the tip of the iceberg!

This is the first of three articles, each looking into the three classic archetypes: aggro, combo, and control. The first two are the ‘easiest’ to build as, to start with, you just try and goldfish as quickly as possible, before casting around for metagame influences. The control tends to come along reactively and influence the rest, but are mainly defined by the threats other decks present. In this case, we’ve a semi-established metagame once we pick up the pieces of what was left from last season and coupled with whatever innovations (Hypergenesis and cascade, for example) we can find. Hopefully, I’ll provide us with a good foundation to start figuring out what deserves a place in the gauntlet.

I’d typically start with combo but I’ve yet to figure out if a new version of Elves is good and what it might look like; and I’ve yet to come across a version of Hypergenesis, which threatens to be the new Dredge (beats everything apart from counters and hate, and its success becomes massively influenced by how much Fear there is) though I can’t see it ever being close to that powerful in its current incarnation. I’ve also been toying with a Braid of Fire deck that I just can’t make good enough, but I’ll get a list of my Red Awakening (Re-Awakening!) to you down the line nonetheless. All of this means that today’s installment will be looking at the beatdown decks the format potentially has. These decks are all theoretical and I only have experience with other, similar decks and my knowledge of the Extended metagame to recommend them, but I’d like to think I can call it pretty well.

The classics all receive a few giant boosts from M10 and lose little except for manabase hits. Luckily, WW can now run two copies of Savannah Lions, which gives it more two power one drops than any mono-colored deck in history. Throw Honor the Pure into the mix and spice with your choice of two drops. In this case I’ve sided with another old school throwback, Soltari Priest, to help race when they stop your cats and to dodge the soon to be popular again Lightning Bolt. I’m also going to try Sigiled Paladin over the next two runners up, in my mind, of Silver Knight and Ethersworn Canonist. This lets you curve a little better and stops one power men being a blocking embarrassment and the ability for your men to trade with Wild Nacatls. Mana Tithe is the weakest card in the deck and not the best combo with Path To Exile, but This leaves us with this deliciously ancient revival:

The sideboard, as with most of these, is fairly pointless at this point with a completely unestablished metagame and so many options to choose from, so most of them, unless I specify otherwise, are more like Hail Marys. The deck is streamlined and incredibly mana efficient. Mana Tithe seems perfectly at home here, stopping your opponent resolving his early answers and generally being a nuisance – it’ll be easy to leave one mana up and still curve out well. It’s hard to resist a deck with fifteen amazing one-drops and a manabase to die for.

Another Magic mainstay gets a new lease of life – RDW. Lightning Bolt and Ball Lightning give it some new (old!) ammo. I’m still not sure if Ball Lightning is better than Flame Javelin, but my gut tells me it is. This deck is all about the curve, keeping it low and making sure you have the correct number. I’m running Slith Firewalker over other options, but it won’t take much to convince me that something else is superior (like Blood Knight if the WW deck turns out to be good). Every card is there to deal as much damage as possible. It also has the simplest manabase I’ve seen in recent years. This sideboard is more accurate than most although other options that immediately spring to mind are Umezawa’s Jitte, Molten Rain, Hell’s Thunder, and Pyroclasm.

If we combine these two decks together, we are left with an equally aggressive Boros deck. It’s here that we immediately feel the loss of the sac-land as the manabase gets a bit icky, having to rely on Gemstone Mine and the like. The solo Tattermunge Maniac is there to make up the curve counts for now and can easily be replaced. As it runs Gemstone Mine and only twenty land, the deck cannot really run three-drops or Jitte.

Affinity completely failed to cut the mustard in the last Extended season. I think that a lot of this had to do with the awesome power of Elves and the ease with which decks could sideboard Ancient Grudge. Initial feelings are that Elves is likely to have lost a lot of its power and certainly its popularity (words I may regret when a bit of testing is done), and only RG decks will now reliably be able to take advantage of Ancient Grudge’s power. Kataki, War’s Wage is still out there, but I feel that even though it has historically been the most hated deck of all time (a title Dredge is trying its hardest to claim, and certainly has done in the older formats) might have fewer silver bullets to dodge than normal.

Arcbound Ravager is vastly inferior now that stacking-damage chicanery is a thing of the past, but he is still powerful enough to play. The first time I saw a list running only three Thoughtcast, I thought they were mad, as it’s the most powerful card in the entire deck. However, the deck is traditionally good against Fae-based control (the most popular control decks right now), and against everything else, you need to ensure that your draw is as explosive as possible, and that single Blue mana can be frustrating to both have and find time for. When all that is said and done, I’ve no problem at all cutting a Soul’s Fire for it. In fact, as I type this, my love of card drawing is forcing me to make the deck list prettier and that change has just been made.

The sideboard is, as expected, rough. However, I feel that even though Thopter Foundry is certainly not the power it could have been pre-M10, that it definitely still warrants experimentation as I think it will still be pretty could at turning a race around Tonto-style, whilst providing some needed life gain. The Darksteel Citadels can definitely be changed to Tree of Tales if you want to play some Ancient Grudge of your own for the mirror.

This all leads us to look at what last season’s reigning beatdown deck, Zoo, looks like post-rotation. About the only ting Zoo lost was the Onslaught sac-lands, but given that the deck’s greatest strength was the consistently absurd power of Kird Ape and Wild Nacatl, this is actually quite the hit. After re-jigging manabase around for a while, it became apparent to me that Kird Ape is no longer a reliable option. This then meant that the now inferior Mogg Fanatic can also easily be cut to make the deck more of a WG base, keeping Red as a splash. To fill the void in the curve this change created, we call upon this article’s popular white guys. After that, it becomes a matter of ironing out the mana issues (only testing will tell if there is no too much pain to be worth the gain of stretching to a third color). It should be noted that the loss of lands has also affected Tarmogoyf’s strength, again to the point where it just might not cut the mustard anymore (though I suspect it still will).

I think that Isochron Scepter, as the Japanese showed us towards the end of the last season, is a solid late game plan, especially with the reprint of Lightning Bolt pushing up the must-play instant count to twelve. I’m not sure that Ethersworn Canonist deserves a place in decks anymore, but I’m keeping it around for now just in case the combo decks are still contenders (I assume they will be).

After all the tinkering that was needed to get a potentially viable version of Zoo together, it made me reexamine the Boros deck to see what happened if I made it a little less aggressive. I again experimentally went with Sigiled Paladin as the two-drop of preference. Also, the same goes for some of the earlier decks, Gemstone Mine isn’t much of a combo with Figure of Destiny, but such is the price I feel you have to pay in the absence of to many good lands. I also have a gut feeling, based on a fair bit of analysis too, that Kitchen Finks might be really good in this format, so those are in there too. Here’s the result:

I’m going to leave a completely elven beatdown deck for the combo section as it will almost certainly, at the very least, overlap with the combo version. I’ve been toying with a GB Elf deck much like the recent dominating version in Standard. Sadly, I had to cut the Wren’s Run Vanquishers as I couldn’t get the elf count to a satisfactory level. I’m not entirely sure that Chameleon Colossus is as strong as it was in Standard, especially now that the need for elves has been removed, but it beats up most of the other creatures in the format, cannot be Spell Snared or, really, countered by Spellstutter Sprite and dodges all spells that start with ‘Lightning.’ Despite all these good things, I’ve decided to cut him as he’s almost certainly too slow and will only be good as a metagame niche. Most of you are probably familiar with the deck’s previous incarnation, so I will simply give you the list:

I can’t really see there being a good Black-based aggressive deck, it just doesn’t have the tools. The same goes for Merfolk and all the Solution-style decks I make rely too much on Jitte.

I’m not claiming, necessarily, to be doing anything amazing with these lists. But I hope they bring you a good idea of what the new Extended format will look like with the changes. Coming soon, I will be looking at control and then combo decks, then hopefully touching on what Zendikar brings, before finally looking at the decks I think, after testing, are Tier 1!

Until next time…