Feature Article – Austin Extended: The Gauntlet

SCG 10K Philadelphia... the first major event featuring Zendikar!
Tuesday, October 6th – Pro Tour: Austin is fast approaching, and Quentin has the perfect article for those looking to break the format. He outlines his idea of the current metagame, including the Big Three and a selection of second-string contenders. He also throws in an intriguing rogue deck that has definite potential…

Austin is almost upon us. In my last article, I listed what I thought should make up everyone’s gauntlet. To reiterate, the tier one decks are Zoo, Hypergenesis, Nearly Mono-Blue Fae, Tezzerator, and Next Level Blue. Those just worthy enough for inclusion are Affinity, Doran, RDW, UG Tron, and Dredge.

There are plenty of other wacky decks out there, some of which might even have potential, but this sample is more than an accurate representation of what is good and liked right now. Testing against this kind of range will, in all likelihood, protect you from any quirky decks too. About the most disappointing thing is that this list looks almost exactly the same as it did at the end of the last season. Thanks, fetchlands…

The format is old. The three big decks – Zoo, Hypergenesis, and Fae – represent the classic archetypes of old — aggro, combo, and control, or rock, paper, and scissors if you will. To further extend the metaphor, HG is rock, Zoo is scissors, and Fae is paper. Luckily, Magic takes it a step further by having sideboards. Cascade gains Vexing Shusher to frustrate most of Fae’s arsenal, and Zoo gains Silence – the best anti-cascade bullet. There’s no magical solution in Fae’s board for Zoo, but the matchup is much closer anyway, although Zoo gains both the tricky Volcanic Fallout and Great Sable Stag.

Here are my current deck lists for the Triumvirate:

There are multiple ways of building these three decks, and therein lies much of the format’s subtle complexity. These are my preferred builds. My Fae list lacks Glen Elendra Archmage, Chrome Mox, and Engineered Explosives, all of which many people consider mainstays. The sideboard is tinkered to take into account opponents cascading into Vexing Shusher.

I’m experimenting with a Magosi, The Waterveil for now because I think it’s far too powerful an ability to have on a land, and it will be incredibly powerful in mirror matches, where you can store a turn when you’ve counter mana up and nothing’s going on and unleash it to force a threat through and still have counter mana up.

I’ve very recently cut Ancient Grudges from the sideboard as I’ve decided to try Plumeveil instead of Firespout. The other reasons are that I don’t think there will be too much Affinity, and Annul is pretty handy any how, especially at stopping opposing Bitterblossoms.

I’m not claiming my Zoo deck to be the shizazzle, but I’ve opted for the perhaps too-clever Isochron Scepter in favour of Ranger of Eos, and find that Knight of the Reliquary is almost always better than Woolly Thoctor (and the Treetop Villages are taken directly from Saito’s old list, rather than any considered metagame choice on my behalf). After a reasonable amount of testing (but not the Fae matchup yet), I cut my two maindeck Umezawa’s Jittes for the full compliment of Goblin Guides — the guy is awesome. This might well make the deck weaker in the mirror, but I think it’s a good decision for now.

The trickiest thing about the cascade deck is still what to do with the sideboard. How do you win the mirror? I’ve gone with Meddling Mages today, but if both of you do that, it can often turn into an awkward game of who can manually cast the big spells first. I’ve yet to find an amicable solution. I’ve fiddled with a transformational sideboard of Tarmogoyfs, Kitchen Finks/Great Sable Stags, and Baneslayer Angels, but it doesn’t quite click. Sakashima the Impostor is an addition by Canadian player Noah Long that allows you to do some pretty cute plays like putting two Iona, Shield of Emeria into play to shut out multi-color decks!

What’s that, you say — ‘there are other decks in the format’… really?

Alright, that might be taking things to extremes, but I think these are the best decks, by quite a while, and they represent most of the styles of the metagame. Throw a couple of artifact-kill spells in every sideboard and you tend to have the rest covered.

That’s why I like Dredge right now. Everyone is correctly suiting up to combat cascade, and the relentless graveyard hate of old has disappeared. It’s a little slower than cascade, but bring in some discard and Chalice of the Void and it gets a lot closer after sideboarding. Meanwhile, Bloodghast gives you a much better game against control, and you are already solid against beatdown.

It’s been suggested that the Red random discard spells are exactly that — too random! I’ve seen lists playing the much slower Thirst for Knowledge instead, and some playing the old school and very fragile (in a world of Path to Exiles and Lightning Bolt) Magus of the Bazaar. I prefer the speed and power of chaos for now, unless further testing convinces me otherwise.

Next up we have two control decks that are perched on the periphery of greatness — Next Level Blue and Tezzerator. There are many builds of NLU as it can play practically any color, dipping here and there for Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt, Firespout, Rude Awakening, and other such favorites. Here are my preferred version:

I’ve experimented with other colors but I don’t think the additional shock lands are worth it, as the mana begins to get very dicey. This version is practically straight UG with just enough mana to run Kitchen Finks which, in addition to Tarmogoyf, gives this deck a much better matchup against Zoo than straight Fae. I’ve decided to run the full compliment of Trickbinds as this version is practically cold to a Vexing Shusher.

No-Tezz the difference? There are two things that should immediately jump out at you from this rather unusual take on Tezzerator. First, I’m not running any of the deck’s namesakes — Tezzeret the Seeker. After playing with the deck a lot while gunslinging the prerelease, I was massively unimpressed by the planeswalker. Without Ensnaring Bridge it just doesn’t do enough; it fetches up the most disappointing things most of the time. To which end, I’ve switched him for Sphinx of Jwar Isle. I was tempted with Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Baneslayer Angel, and Broodmate Dragon for a while, but this guy is a house. Shroud is so powerful right now on a big body, and he’s cheaper than Simic Sky Swallower.

Second, I’ve added White to play Ajani Vengeant. Without Ensnaring Bridge, it was becoming much harder to deal with resolved Tarmogoyfs and Zoo’s other big guys. I’ve also found that the deck really wants some form of life gain. In the past, with Tezzeret, Umezawa’s Jitte has awkwardly served this purpose, but Ajani does it so much better whilst performing a plethora of other duties. White also lets me play Meddling Mage in the sideboard, particularly for cascade but also for the control matchups. I’m not certain if I can reliably cast him on the second turn, with only nine sources of White, and I am tempted to cut the Tolaria West for an Ancient Den.

Tezzerator’s biggest weakness is to a resolved Gaddock Teeg as your only out is Firespout, which is why the fourth copy is in the sideboard. If you know your opponent is going to bring in Teegs then it is often worth adding one or both of the Volcanic Fallouts which are there to do double duty rather than to just keep Fae away.

This deck has been performing very well for me so far, though the Sphinxes are untested. The deck is essentially a mainly Blue control deck based on the awesome power of Chalice of the Void and three of Blue’s best card advantage spells — Thirst for Knowledge, Trinket Mage, and Cryptic Command. Pithing Needle is also a trump card in several of the more unexpected matchups, and having access to Tormod’s Crypt gives you more game against Dredge than most people.

Affinity hasn’t changed at all; I post the list here for posterity’s sake and will leave it at that. Chalice of the Void can be played, as well as Ethersworn Canonists in the sideboard, and the Thopter Foundry, in this deck at least, is still untested.

UG Tron is still looking like a very powerful option, but one that I haven’t found time to test as I’ve been focusing on Tezzerator and the Big Three. Here’s my current list:

Between Wall of Roots, Kitchen Finks, and Tarmogoyf, it should have enough early stability to give Zoo, traditionally one of its trickier match ups (normally revolving around Chalice of the Void), a good run for its money. Over twenty games (main and boarded), I wound up winning 60% of the time with Tron, but it was very close. Gaddock Teeg was a major pain, which is why the extra Triskelions are in the sideboard.

Having four maindeck Condescend and four Chalices means that Hypergenesis is good for you in the first game, and the Trickbinds should help ensure that it stays that way, especially as they can protect your Chalices from Ingot Chewer. I’ve not testing it yet after sideboarding, but it might be worth bringing in the Threads of Disloyalty if they play Vexing Shusher

The Fae matchup is good. Most of their counterspells do little against you, and your game plan is to force a Gifts Ungiven through before they can kill you with Vendilion Clique. It’s not too difficult to assemble the full Urzatron against them, and once you have it, they are fairly helpless to stop you going infinite. This is definitely a deck that I will be playing a lot over the next week or so, and is one of the five decks I’m currently considering playing.

I have specialised this deck quite a lot to beat the Big Three. Doran and Affinity are both very difficult matchups to win. It should be noted that there’s currently no way of dealing with a resolved Pithing Needle! It might be worth cutting a Wall of Roots for an Engineered Explosives, but that might be giving into The Fear. However, I’m not a fan of EE in this deck as it is only good against Zoo and Pithing Needle.

I’d not covered a Doran deck in my last Extended series because the Zendikar fetchlands hadn’t been spoiled yet and the mana was much better for a GB elf deck. Now that mana is not a problem, we can take a closer look at a deck that is, due to its nature, often more popular than it is good:

Doran has potential, I won’t knock that. A solid discard package of Thoughtseize and Tidehollow Sculler backed up by Duress in the board should give it reasonable game against Hypergenesis, although there is nothing to stop a topdecked cascade spell and they are more likely to draw two of them maindeck than you are discard (and they can always Ingot Chewer your Sculler). Zoo is a very good matchup as you have bigger men and Kitchen Finks.

Fae has always been a poor matchup for Doran variants as they contain all your threats easily. If Fae manages to get an online Jitte, there is little Doran can do. It’s not all bleak, as they don’t have too many answers to resolved threats and you can often ride an early Dark Confidant home. Great Sable Stag should do wonders for this matchup, and is exactly what Doran has needed for a while. It might be worth playing a fourth Umezawa’s Jitte in the sideboard to make sure you have Jitte dominance.

I have included Red Deck Wins in the gauntlet against my better judgement. I think it’s inferior to Zoo but definitely better, though very similar, to All-In Red. It’s a fun deck to have around, thanks to Magus of the Moon it actually has a reasonable amount of potential and, given the correct metagame, could be a fine choice. It’s also fairly easy to play, and I often use it as a skill tester to see whether a deck can withstand such a simple, brutal attack.

It’s not even that bad. Goblin Guide has given it exactly what it always wanted. If ever there was a time for the resurgence of RDW, that time is now. With Lightning Bolt and Ball Lightning back, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this played. I also love the manabase! This deck never ever wants to have a land come into play tapped, and it doesn’t run any legends to need a Shinka, The Bloodstained Keep so there’s nothing else for it but to go Old School.

Cascade steamrolls it in the first game, but a surprise Chalice after sideboarding might take a game, and they are generally cold to a Magus of the Moon (unless they bring in Firespout). I’ve included Flamebreak for Zoo in favor of Volcanic Fallout, but the latter might be a better option, or an addition, for fighting Fae in place of the Smash to Smithereens as I cannot see Affinity being too popular.

There you have it. Good lists (and sketchy sideboards) of all the decks that you will need to test for Austin. You should now have a good gauntlet to run your weird, wacky, and hopefully successful inventions through to see if you can break the format, or at least come up with a better deck than the rest of us. I’ve by no means exhausted the options, but I have refined them. If you’re tight on time, just continually play the deck you want to play against the Big Three. That advice remains the same if you want to play one of them — test the mirror!



P.S. I’ve been trying a few wacky ideas of my own since last week’s Martyr decks. Some of them haven’t really got off the ground, like trying to cascade into Restore Balance and abusing it by suspending Greater Gargadon and other such goodies. One deck, that is by no means near completion, I feel is worth bringing to public attention.

This version kills on turn 4 with reasonable reliability. A Thopter Foundry by itself can often keep Zoo at bay for enough turns, but it has little protection against counters and is slower than Hypergenesis and is yet to run Chalices main.

However, the combo is cute and it’s not super bad. The gist of it is to combine a Thopter Foundry with a Sword of the Meek (even better if you discarded the Sword to an earlier Thirst). This combo allows you to pay X, gain X life, and get X 1/1 flying tokens. Add a Krark-Clan Ironworks into the mix and you gain both infinite life and infinite men. Cute, eh?

The deck has gone through many different versions, and this one is still nowhere near to being finished. Could the combo be incorporated into a more controlling Tezzeret/Affinity deck? Instead of the seven Chromatic Star slots, could I do more with the deck? Maybe we need a Gifts Ungiven engine in there along with either Trash for Treasure, Myr Retriever, or Ritual of Restoration? Maybe we don’t even need the Krark-Clan Ironworks… I’ve had Chrome Mox in there before and I want it back, but there aren’t enough Blue spells any more. Get to it, people!