Feature Article – Extended Analysis and Pauper Fun

SCG Open Richmond!

Monday, February 22nd – Quentin Martin examines a selection of Extended strategies in the wake of Grand Prix: Oakland. He also goes searching for some Magical fun by looking at the Online Pauper metagame.

In this article, I will look into the ever-evolving Extended format. Then I plan on throwing a sexy curveball and giving everyone who plays Magic Online a new, sexy pastime! Don’t skip over the last section. It may not appear too relevant at first, but it will provide you with hours and hours of MTGO fun — breathing back a joy for Magic that recent formats may have sucked out of you.


Grand Prix: Oakland has come and gone. Plenty of articles have been written analysing the Top 8 decks, so you won’t find that here. The metagame was, as predicted, a slew of Zoo and Thepths, but it is the new metagame I’m interested in. How will Oakland change things up? There are few obvious starters — the decks in the Top 8 will increase in popularity, but in all honesty, not by much. Elves is too tricky to play for your average PTQ player, and close to impossible online. The biggest metagame shift to come out of California is Petr Brozek’s update of Boros:

This deck is straight up scary. Flagstones of Trokair now seem like a completely obvious upgrade to old Boros, so much so that I’m sure many of us are dumbfounded as to why they weren’t there in the first place. Brozek has made some fantastic innovations here. The Ghost Quarters fit the Flagstones and the metagame perfectly. I can’t rant, rave, and fear this deck enough. I think the Refraction Traps should be something more effective, and that maybe a bit more Dredge hate is needed, so I’ve taken a speculative leaf out of Conley Woods book and added a couple of Samurai of the Pale Curtain. His Shard Volley seemed cute at best, so I’ve them into the fourth Path to Exile and two Isamaru, Hound of Konda. Kor Firewalker seems like the best addition for the mirror I can think of right now.

The biggest shift we’ll be seeing, apart from Boros, will be in sideboards and tweaks. Chalice of the Void might make a sideboard comeback. Dredge hate might be cut some more, with the growing trend to shift the remnants towards Extirpate and Leyline of the Void to cater for Thopter decks. Delve a little deeper and those astute at metagame observation will notice how fantastic Night of Souls’ Betrayal is right now. It beats on Elves, Thopters, Hexmages, Fae, and Dark Confidants. Darkblast is also pretty hot.

All this has some far-reaching implications for the format. I think that Thepths will take a huge knock if Boros and Night of Souls’ Betrayal become popular, as I think they will. Boros might make bigger Zoo decks more viable again in turn. I would start re-sleeving up my Dredge deck too. There will come a point a few weeks down the line where the hate cards will have almost completely disappeared; or they will have turned into the not-completely-threatening Extirpates. It should be noted that Dredge destroys Boros…

I think the best deck to play right now will be Boros. Will I be playing it? Probably not. It’s not really my style and, more importantly, my friends who are lending me cards are playing it, so beggars cannot be choosers. I’m looking at either Fae or an original UW Thopter deck, with Dredge also staying there in the back of my mind.

There’s not too much special about my Dredge list until you get to the sideboard. Main deck I’ve elected to play a Flame-Kin Zealot again, as a nod to the presence of other combo decks. I don’t feel you need to play Leyline of the Voids for the mirror anymore, as I think the deck has dropped off the map, adding Dredge’s second gambit if you will. The sideboard, however, is just sexy special. Most matchups lead to a complete fifteen card transformation aimed at dodging all remaining hate and presenting a slightly different threat for the second games. There’s no real rule as to what to take in and out — spice every matchup as you see fit, and always mix it up again for game 3. I was loath to cut 3 Ghost Quarters from the sideboard, and they can always be switched back in for the Tarmogoyfs if need be.

Until I saw Boros, and before I predicted a rise in Night of Souls’ Betrayal, this was the deck I was going to play at my next PTQ. I still might. The Ghost Quarters, effectively replacing the colorless land slots of last season’s Riptide Laboratory, improve your already great game over Dark Depths and Thopter Foundry decks (I’ve not actually tested the third, so cutting back down to two might be fine). I also put the second Mistbind Clique back in the deck as a nod to fighting Darkblast and Night of Souls’ Betrayal, replacing my singleton Venser, Shaper Savant.

This version is pretty thin on actually winning game 1, but it has a lot more control elements, especially in its Planeswalkers. The maindeck Blood Moons give you many free wins too. I’ve considered cutting the Gifts Ungiven for either a second Jace, the Mind Sculptor or a second Tezzeret the Seeker. I spent a lot of time today trying to figure out the best way to fight Brozek’s Boros deck. I cut a Path to Exile, a Relic of Progenitus, a Blood Moon and a Tormod’s Crypt to give me space to combat Boros. The first answer that I came up with was to bring in a bunch of Lightning Helixes, but for now I’ve settled on Kor Firewalkers. More testing will tell which is better, though I believe my fear in the power and future uprising of the deck to be well founded.

Another version of the Thopter deck that has had some success recently has added Mystical Teachings. This makes it a lot more controlling and a little more versatile. For me, the main attraction of this deck is that you get to sideboard Night of Souls’ Betrayal and Darkblast. On top of that, Pulse of the Fields is a fantastic card right now with the rise of Boros. I’ve had to cut the traditional Fracturing Gust from the sideboard, but I’ve not seen Affinity do to well recently, and it’s not the worst matchup anyway. Having an Extirpate maindeck is surprisingly powerful in a lot of matchups. It’s very easy to tinker with this deck: for example, add a Punishing Fire and a few Grove of the Burnwillows, a sideboarded Ancient Grudge, and maybe some Firespout or Kitchen Finks.

Is the Teachings package more powerful than playing Gifts Ungiven? I’m not sure, but it definitely takes up less thought! Finally, I’m not entirely sure that the Esper Charms belong here, as I haven’t tested this deck extensively. They might be better as some cheaper, reactionary cards and an additional Cryptic Command and/or Careful Consideration.

The format is wide open. As always, the best answer to it right now is to play the deck you know the best. If you know enough about it, fiddle around a bit to find the configuration that fits you, if not, play what works. I know that I’ll be playing one of these five decks.


I moved back from the wilds of Canada to England recently. Since then, poverty stricken, I’ve been sending off job applications from my mum’s house. This is not the normal awesomeness I associate with my life. Having burnt all my cash travelling around North America, I’m back to pokering for my daily bread. I earn the money I need, and it might sound glamorous, but poker is boring! There’s little interaction with people. It’s just you and your computer. Sure, a few nights a week you get to hang out with the lovely people at the local casino, but half of them are life’s losers, and the other half are those with whom you’re battling for the loser’s money.

MTGO is one of the places I turn when I can’t face the poker tables. It’s a challenge on a whole different level. There’s creativity involved, an ongoing challenge for betterment, and new sets are always around the next bend. However, MTGO is also a place that can get boring pretty quickly. When a format is heavily played, it becomes stale. You start drafting on auto-pilot, which lessens your enjoyment and the quality of your deck in equal measure. You can’t wait for the arrival of that new set. Luckily for me, Matteo Orsini-Jones left me a message on Facebook.

He’d sent me a deck he’d called ‘Mono-Merk.’ It looked like fun.

It was a Pauper deck.

I knew absolutely nothing about the format. I knew it involved exclusively commons, and figured it was just a sucky gimmick for punks to play who couldn’t afford to play real Magic. I knew so little that the first few times I played against Affinity, I spent the whole games playing around Cranial Plating before I found out it was banned!

The decklist looked like a lot of fun. It looked like a deck from the age when Magic was Magic; when decks had real cards, and each game was full of real interactions and decisions. Seven tix later, and my deck was complete. Turns out that some commons actually cost money, and that even my extensive drafting didn’t cover anything. Many of the format’s better cards can be found in one of the Master Editions, Invasion, or some of the promo-sets like Chandra versus Jace.

After the first few games, I cut three Piracy Charm and two Force Spike from the main deck (to be replaced by the originally sideboard Echoing Truth) and added an Errant Ephemeron, as well as the suspend creatures in the sideboard. With that wacky, seemingly underpowered introduction, I give you Mono-Merk:

4 Spire Golem
4 Sentinels of Glen Elendra
4 Echoing Truth
4 Counterspell
4 Exclude
4 Think Twice
3 Fathom Seer
3 Faerie Trickery
3 Prohibit
2 Oona’s Grace
1 Errant Ephemeron

24 Island

4 Hydroblast
4 Hindering Touch
3 Errant Ephemeron
2 Annul
2 Curse of Chains

Ain’t she a beauty? Check it out: twenty-four of the holiest basic land — the Island! The Excludes are the closest thing to Cryptic Command in the format, and as everything is so cheap, Prohibit is basically a Counterspell. Speaking of which…

Pauper is Old School. Being all commons, most of the creatures are pretty small. There are effectively no board sweepers (Crypt Rats is probably the best around), and busted effects in general are hard to come by. There’s not the world’s best mana fixing either, so most decks are mono or two colours. People have to rely on Terramorphic Expanse and the Ravnica bounce lands. Despite all of this, the decks tend to be really powerful! This Blue deck is testament to that. The most busted deck in the format is Storm, which can reliably go off early and is packed with raw power. The archetypical beatdown decks in the format are Goblins and Suicide, whilst Affinity is more pseudo-control. The control deck of choice is Teaching Rats.

Before I delve into the format and matchups, let’s look at the deck breakdown. The card drawing package is second to none. A lot of the format’s other decks try to keep up with Momentary Blink and Mystic Teachings (a sick Faerie Trickery target), but your options are better. They may also have Mulldrifter but your card draw is more streamlined and you play Exclude. Think Twice keeps you running, and Fathom Seer is like a kick in the teeth for almost every single deck. Seer also makes for a surprisingly efficient blocker. Oona’s Grace gives you the game to grind out almost everyone, and gives you something extra to do with all those Islands returned to your grip from the Seer. It’s worth noting that you can target your opponent with it too — I’ve won several tight control games through decking.

Spire Golem is simply one of the best creatures in the format. You almost never run it out on turn 3, as on turn 4 you can cast it and have Echoing Truth or a counter back up. Common creatures are lacking in power, and almost nothing can kill it in a straight up fight, except maybe Order of the Ebon Hand or a Skulking Knight – I’m the only person I’ve seen playing Errant Ephemeron! I’ve found him to be the format’s dragon. He’s cheap, you always have the time, and he dominates the board. It’s great to have another threat, as sometimes you can be worn a little tight in the control matchups. He also kills very quickly, which is handy against Storm. The Sentinels of Glen Elendra are, as far as I’m aware, all Matteo’s inspiration. You never want to tap mana in your turn (except for you turn five plus Seer), and he ambushes most of the format’s creatures.

The Echoing Truths are a nod to Storm. Beating it is a necessary evil, and you have no other reliable way of fighting their Empty the Warrens maindeck. Otherwise the slot would probably be some Into the Roils and the last Prohibit. Despite that, they are very good. Saving your men turns them into pseudo-counterspells (it’s hardly a pain to recast Spire Golem), and you tend to bounce Fathom Seer. A lot.

Here’s my performance with the deck so far, over the first 64 matches I’ve played with it:

Goblins — WLWLLL – 2-4
Affinity — LLLW – 1-3
WUB Blink — WWWW – 4-0
Suicide – WWW – 3-0
Mono-B — WWW – 3-0
UW Skies — WWW – 3-0
Orzhov – WWW – 3-0
WU Sliver — WW – 2-0
WG Sliver — LL – 0-2
UBr Trinket — W – 1-0
Burn — W – 1-0
Boros — W – 1-0
UG Ctrl — W – 1-0
Domain — W – 1-0
GB Madness — W – 1-0
Gu Elves — W – 1-0
Mono-Green — W – 1-0
Izzet-Post — W – 1-0
Old MUC — W – 1-0

Total Record: 51-13

That’s an 80% win ratio against a large variety of decks, and about the largest number of matches you can reasonably expect to play with the same deck. 78%! I’ve not seen a record that good since the Ancient Times when people built decks rather than letting the internet doing it for them. Metagames change, but this one seems pretty solid. I felt like the deck was actually 50/50 against both Suicide and Goblins. Affinity is a very tight matchup that Matteo seems to win more than I. Storm probably isn’t as good as it looks, as many players go off too early, but the addition of Hindering Touch makes it a lot easier. Simply, if your opponent makes a Forest or a Plains (though not together, as WG Slivers battered me), then you’re in for a bye. It should be noted that I never played a mirror.

Let’s take a look at how the matchups work. I’ll kick things off by looking at the format’s most popular deck — Storm. I’ve based this, along with all the other deck lists, on the versions that I have most consistently faced, rather than the version that I would choose to play. If this article proves successful, I may well change decks for a while to figure out better lists.

4 Cabal Ritual
3 Chromatic Sphere

4 Chromatic Star
4 Dark Ritual
4 Grapeshot
4 Ideas Unbound
4 Lotus Petal
4 Manamorphose
4 Rite of Flame
4 Sign In Blood
3 Empty The Warrens
4 Ponder

4 Ancient Spring
4 Irrigation Ditch
4 Sulfur Vent
2 Geothermal Crevice

Echoing Truth is very important throughout this matchup as your only out to a resolved Empty the Warrens. In the first game, when they have no disruption, drawing one is game… just be sure to never tap out, as some versions play Goblin Bushwhacker main deck rather than in the sideboard. You should always leave counter mana open so that you can stop their Ideas Unbound. I tend to let every other spell resolve, even Sign in Bloods (unless I have more mana and counters open than need be). As you have almost no pressure in this matchup, they have plenty of time to sculpt their hand before going off, so getting a threat down is of utmost importance (as is digging for that Echoing Truth), but never tap out to do so.

Sideboarding: -4 Exclude, -2 Faerie Trickery, +4 Hindering Light, +2 Errant Ephemeron

Storm players bring in the full compliment of Duress and a couple of Goblin Bushwhackers. Sometimes I bring in Annul instead of the Ephemeron, which are only there to put your opponent on a clock so they do not have the luxury of waiting around for a Duress. Keep your mana open and if all works out well, you should be able to defend your Hindering Lights and Echoing Truths from Duresses, otherwise the game plan remains the same.

Up next is the most popular control deck — UB Rat Teachings:

4 Ravenous Rats
4 Chittering Rats
4 Mulldrifter
4 Counterspell
3 Brainstorm
3 Mystic Teachings
3 Agony Warp
2 Ninja of the Deep Hours
2 Exclude
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Doom Blade
1 Echoing Decay
1 Grim Harvest
1 Soul Manipulation
1 Faerie Trickery
1 Pestermite

4 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Dimir Aqueduct
10 Island
6 Swamp

At first, this seems like a bad matchup as almost everything in their deck seems to two-for-one you. However, they have no good pressure as everything is stopped by your flying men, and only their Mulldrifters can attack through a Fathom Seer. Your Excludes are worth their weight in gold, as are your Spire Golems as they have very few ways to remove them. Your Echoing Truths are useful main deck for saving your creatures and recycling your Seers. You are never in any hurry to win with your deck — every match is a grind, with you eventually gaining complete control, so don’t even think about racing or ‘tempo.’ Focus on card advantage and stopping the cards that count — in this case, their creatures and then their removal. If you can safely hit their Mystic Teachings or Grim Harvest with a Faerie Trickery, do so, though you can often fight the Harvest by just countering all of their creatures. You don’t really need to fight their end step Teachings if it will leave you vulnerable because you have enough natural card advantage to just weather the storm by sitting behind and protecting a Spire Golem.

The most important aspect of their game to be aware of is their Ninja of the Deep Hours. It is additionally because of him that you try and counter all their early rats, even more so if you have no man to drop to stop him if they connect once.

If they are splashing White, they are doing so for a Momentary Blink main and a Disenchant/Divine Offering in the sideboard. If so, make sure to counter their evoked Mulldrifters if you can.

They tend to bring in Duress and Negates, but you swap out three Echoing Truths for the Ephemerons. There is little they can do versus your two-mana dragon. You have all the time in the world for them to unsuspend and can sculpt your hand in the meanwhile to protect them once they do.


4 Goblin Cohort
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Mogg Conscripts
4 Goblin Flunkies
4 Mogg War Marshall
4 Mogg Raider
4 Goblin Sledder
3 Goblin Bushwhacker
1 Fireblast
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Chain Lightning
20 Mountain

Another deck of beauty! Simple, simple beatdown. Some people play around with Teetering Peaks but I see no reason to play an enters-the-battlefield-tapped land in a deck so full of one-drops. The Goblin Sledders are the most annoying element of their deck as they get around your creatures. As with any pure beatdown versus pure control matchup, all you have to do is stay alive! Keep your life total high enough and you will get there eventually. This is one of the few matchups where slapping down a third turn Golem can be correct, though if you have an Exclude and a two-mana spell, then it’s still normally correct to wait a turn. A turn 2 Fathom Seer also does a lot of good! Watch out for Fireblast if you can, but not all versions run it.

You gain the almighty Hydroblast (+4, -2 Oona’s Grace, -2 Echoing Truth) which helps you a little bit against their incredibly annoying Pyroblasts (which do nothing against your all-powerful Spire Golem (some versions have Smash to Smithereens for him though too)). Otherwise, nothing changes after sideboarding.


4 Vampire Lacerator
4 Carnophage
4 Dauthi Slayer
4 Dauthi Horror
4 Knight of the Ebon Hand
4 Lotus Petal
4 Dark Ritual
4 Duress
4 Disfigure
2 Doom Blade
2 Skulking Knight
2 Sinister Strength

18 Swamp

Suicide consists of lots of Carnophage and Dauthi Slayer style creatures, sped up by Dark Ritual and Lotus Petal and backed up with some removal and Duress. The matchup is very similar to Goblins, except they have no burn to finish you off and you have almost no answer to their Shadow creatures. One additional annoyance is Okiba Gang Shinobi after sideboarding. Bring in two Curse of Chains and an Ephemeron, for two Faerie Trickery and an Oona’s Grace.


4 Frogmite
4 Myr Enforcer
4 Thoughtcast
4 Rush of Knowledge
4 Disciple of the Vault
4 Chromatic Star
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Somber Hoverguard
4 Lotus Petal
3 Krark-Clan Shaman
3 Springleaf Drum
2 Pyrite Spellbomb

4 Seat of Synod
4 Great Furnace
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Darksteel Citadel

Affinity is a very tricky matchup for both players. I’ve made quite a few mistakes playing it, which is possibly one of the reasons this is one of the deck’s few bad matchups. They have almost no early game of any concern, unlike past versions, as you can stop their 1/1s and Frogmites with every creature in their deck, so do not worry about those cards. Let Thoughtcast resolve. It is essential to counter the second half of their Disciple of the Vault/Krark-Clan Shaman ‘combo.’ The rest of the matchup is all about stopping their Myr Enforcers resolving, and NEVER EVER letting them resolve a Rush of Knowledge. Feel free to trade your Sentinels for their Somber Hoverguards, and even take some bad trades to get their Myr Enforcers off the table. Always make sure you have one counter left open, if possible, to stop their Rush or Enforcer, and you should be okay.

Things only get worse after sideboarding. You gain two Annul, two Curse of Chains and three thoroughly sub-par Ephemerons, removing three Prohibit and four Echoing Truth. However, they gain Deep Analysis and then a combination of Duress and Pyroblasts. I’ve even seen Quicksilver Behemoths and Warren Pilferers brought in too! This is a great matchup to play with lots of agonising thinking, but I enjoy it.

In summary, I cannot remember when I had this much fun playing Magic this millennia! It makes for a refreshing change from an old drafting format and a much less skill intensive Standard format. Extended is a lot of fun right now, but is more expensive than I can afford on MTGO, and Worldwake isn’t quite there yet to make Standard or Block Constructed interesting enough.

I’m not sure exactly how much the other MTGO Constructed formats’ decks cost to build, but this one cost me a whopping 7 tix! I’ve managed to turn that into 49 tix so far, which makes it one of the most profitable MTGO endeavours I have ever been involved in since buying Arcbound Ravagers for three tix each back in the beginning.

Every matchup is enjoyable, with plenty of good decisions to make and a total joy to play. It’s Magic how it was meant to be. It’s something old. It’s something new. I don’t know what I’ve borrowed, but it’s definitely something Blue!