Feature Article – BG Pox Rock in Extended

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Thursday, April 1st – Extended Season is winding to a close, and the metagame is well documented. At the top of the heap we have the Combo and Aggro decks; in fact, the lack of control decks is perhaps the one missing link in the format. Ben Lundquist believes that midrange BG Pox Rock is in a perfect spot to take up the control mantle. Is this midrange strategy ready to hit the big time? Read on to find out!

A couple of weeks ago, Brian Kibler wrote an article that examined some new ideas that you could take in Extended. One of those decks, Pox Rock, looked similar to some decks that I have tried to make work and had dismissed as underpowered. When my friend Phil Napoli told me he was going to play something similar to this Pox deck at the PTQ in San Diego, I told him that I would help him put together anything else, as I thought the deck was not at all good enough to win the tournament. He did not win the tournament, but a BG deck did indeed do just that.

Although I will admit that I have not played a single game with this deck, it has a lot of good cards and tools to fight the potential hate that the UB version may have trouble with. This was covered in more detail in Kibler’s article, so if you are interested by this list than check out his article here. What I do want to mention about this deck though, is that just about everyone is going to be ready for 20/20s, and it might be right to ditch that plan altogether. Free wins are very nice and all, but a deck that can sidestep free loses from drawing multiples of dead cards like Urborgs or Dark Depths without the Hexmage is a little more appealing to me. So, when my friend Mike Farrell gave me a call after finishing second at a PTQ with this next deck, I had to give it a try.

As my friend put it, he is not the best player, so if he can finish second with this deck at a PTQ it has to be a decent deck. I chatted with him on the phone for a while here and there while I tested on MTGO, and I came to a few conclusions. The deck is not what I want to be doing in a format of so many combo decks. Combo decks are so fast and resilient that it is hard not to play them. This deck plays fair and does what just about every Rock deck you can think of has done since the beginning of time; grind out the opponent through incremental advantages it gains throughout the game. So, does this deck do that? Yes, this deck is actually pretty good at grinding down the opponent and locking up a win. It may not have the power of a deck like Hypergenesis or Thopter/Depths, but it is also more consistent, and not hated on by anything.

I have been a pretty strong advocate of Dredge over the past few weeks, and was planning on playing it at GP Oakland until I missed my flight. That deck is very hard to play, and the sideboarding is even harder. The hate cards do a good job of keeping it from being a major contender, but they aren’t the end all for the deck either. Dredge is pretty resilient to the hate, as I am sure most other combo decks are as well, but what Dredge does do is mulligan to death more often than I would like. Another thing that I don’t like about Dredge is that although it is hard to play correctly, the games are never that different. What I mean by this is that once you figure out how to play the deck, the importance of the cards in the deck, and how to play around what they might have, there is not much interaction in the game. You do your thing and they do theirs. The interaction comes from the sideboard, where they are the ones trying to interact with you, while you interact with their sideboard cards. This is not a game that I really enjoy playing since I am a control player at heart, and hoping they don’t have it is more of an aggro strategy that I don’t want to sweat. What a control player does do is grind out the opponent and gain card advantage until he can finally seal the deal at the end of the game. Which brings me back to my topic.

BG Pox Rock is a control deck. The reason I say this is because there aren’t really any true control decks in this format other than Faeries, which don’t get a lot of respect in this format. Typically, a Rock Deck would be considered midranged, but any midranged deck in this format is going to be playing the control role more often than not. Of course, it can also go beatdown, as the deck has some very good creatures, but that is just a bonus. Being a control deck that can seal a game relatively quickly is something that is very appealing to me.

After playing this deck for just a couple of hours, a few things became fairly obvious to me. The first thing is that the mana cost was a little too high for me. I have never liked the card Stupor, and in a deck with Dark Confidant I am not going to feel any better about it. It is likely that you are going to want to do a couple things in one turn with this deck and when you throw in a three mana disruption spell, it isn’t that easy to get extra mileage off of the manlands or the cards that you are drawing with Bob. Stupor had to go, I still wanted disruption, and I wanted it to be cheap. Duress was a very easy switch that I made and I am very satisfied with. Some other things I did with the deck are fiddle with the numbers and figure out a better sideboard. Mike Farrell told me he didn’t really like his sideboard, so that was one of the top priorities when coming up with the best 75 for this deck.

Looking at the sideboard there were a few things that I didn’t exactly understand. I may be overlooking something, but Krosan Grip doesn’t seem to do an awful lot in this format other than blowing up a Thopter Foundry or maybe a Blood Moon. Though this is not the worst thing to have a plan to beat in the sideboard games, there are other cards in the deck that already handle this problem reasonably well. Discards, Maelstrom Pulse, Extirpate, and Damping Matrix are all very reasonable plans that will stop the Thopter combo. Having a card in the sideboard that is meant to deal with only one card in the opponent’s deck is not a very good plan. Taking a look at all the scenarios will show just why.

1) They have a Thopter Foundry in play and you kill it with the Krosan Grip you have. This is the best case scenario.
2) They have a Thopter Foundry in play, but you don’t draw Krosan Grip at the right time to kill it. This is neither good nor bad because if you don’t draw Krosan Grip it can’t actually be good or bad in that particular game.
3) They don’t draw the Thopter Foundry and you don’t draw Krosan Grip. Again, Krosan Grip is neither good nor bad.
4) They don’t draw the Thopter Foundry and you draw the Krosan Grip. This is the worst case scenario that leaves you with a total blank in your hand.

This goes with any situational cards that you could sideboard in any matchups. If the opponent is going to have multiple angles of attack, like the Thopter deck of choice having the Dark Depths + Hexmage plan, then they can completely play around this type of card and not be affected. Krosan Grip looks similarly miserable against a Zoo deck packing Blood Moon. I can never imagine wanting to board in a card that answers very little from what my opponent would be planning to do. There are many reasons to consider a card that is this situational by factoring in that they are likely to tutor for the Thopter Foundry or you can just discard the Krosan Grip to Smallpox. The thing is, unless it is pretty much impossible for them to win without the Thopter combo, a card that kills a Thopter Foundry will not lead to victory as much as you want it to. If a card is not leading to very many wins, then why are you playing it?

After playing with the numbers and fixing the sideboard, this is the updated list that I would feel comfortable playing.

There are some sideboard options that I haven’t tried, such as Leyline of the Void or additional Shadow of Doubts. I would like to avoid playing Leyline in this deck due to it not playing so well with Dark Confidant, and also due to the willingness to keep bad hands based on having a Leyline in it. If you take a look at Sam Black recent article on Faeries, you will notice that he kept some hands that he otherwise wouldn’t have kept due to the necessity of having Leyline in your opener. I tend to like cards that are good at all stages in the game, and while it is possible to cast a Leyline, I don’t feel very comfortable with getting to turn 4 against a deck like Dredge when that is my disruption of choice. I think a card like Extirpate is almost always better, and is going to be good in more matchups. Shadow of Doubt is surprisingly good against the Dark Depths matchup, and is a cheap answer to Scapeshift. I recommend that you give that card a try if you are serious about playing this deck, but it may not be necessary in a deck that has so much disruption already. Other options when toying with the sideboard are to add additional Duress and cutting down on any of the Cranial Extractions and Chalice of the Voids. I am not a fan of giving definite sideboards, as I am never sure what is going to be in mine until a couple of hours before I sit down at any given tournament. Also, by not giving a definite sideboard, you will be able to work the numbers out better on your own and understand your own deck better, not to mention that it will also keeps your opponents guessing when you play against them. I will tell you what you can, and what you should, sideboard out in each matchup.

Thopter/Depths: Here I think it is right to take out 4 Finks, 1 Smother, and 1 Jitte. Finks are not very good in this matchup, 4 Smother is going to be too much (especially if you want to bring in Darkblast, which if you have in the sideboard you should) and although I do like Jitte here, 3 is likely too many also. Remember that if you bring in Damping Matrix, you can take out more Jittes since they will be deactivated. The more Darkblasts you sideboard, the more Smothers you take out. Dark Confidant is very important in this matchup, so leaving ways to kill him is just as important. Cleaning up their creature count will make your Gatekeepers and Smallpox more effective, and Darkblast does this throughout the game. Pulse is not amazing here, but being able to kill a Bob, Thopter Foundry, or Jace makes it a card that you will want to have a chance to draw it. A couple of Extirpates are good against them at catching the Thopter combo, or in combination with the many discard spells this deck plays. The main weakness here is their ability to make a fast 20/20, so if you have space to put a couple of Ghost Quarter in, then it could be worth your while to do so.

Zoo: Sideboarding here is pretty simple. The only cards I really want to bring in are going to be Deathmarks, and it is easy to cut a Thoughtseize and two Duress. Thoughtseize actually isn’t that bad, but you want to have more live cards to peel as the game goes long, so it’s right to shave one here.

Scapeshift: It is fairly obvious what to do here. Smother is terrible, Pulse is bad, Finks is mediocre at best, Gatekeeper is kind of stinky, and Jitte isn’t that much of a superstar either. You can leave in some number of the non-Smother/Pulse cards, but only if you need to.

Hypergenesis: Similar to Scapeshift, but Pulse is actually decent. With the disruption that you will be providing, it is likely that they will not come up with a huge army of fatties. It is more likely that they get just a couple into play, and the Pulse can help you clean them up while you continue to try and control their plans.

There are tons of viable decks in this format, so make sure you shape your sideboards to handle what you want. You only get 15 so you can’t be perfect everywhere, but the format is pretty well defined at the moment, so take advantage of it. Overlapping cards in matchups is always good, but make sure they are good enough to help you win a game and not just deny them of some resources. Damping Matrix is a card that I could see being cut due to it not having much overlap, but it is also very effective in the matchup you have it for when combined with your own disruption. Taylor your sideboards to make this deck your deck, and it will go a long way to helping you win. This deck has the tools to win, so give it a try and good luck.

Until next time…

Ben Lundquist