Feature Article – LSV on Doran in Extended

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Luis Scott-Vargas, America’s Level 7 Mage, isn’t a particular fan of beating down. That said, when offered the chance to drop a virtual 5/5 monster on turn 2, one that meddles with the opposition in incremental but significant ways, he found he was unable to refuse. Today he runs through his successful Doran Extended build, and shares wise words on the matchups that matter in the current metagame.

After returning from Worlds, the next format in the rotation was Extended. The only information anyone had was from the single PTQ held at Worlds, and the winning deck looked interesting. It did, however, look very inconsistent, and it had a fair number of random cards, but the centerpiece – Doran, the Siege Tower – was exciting. A three mana 5/5 with the bonus of messing with some commonly played cards seemed pretty good. I typically don’t play aggro decks, as fast streamlined decks that try to beat down just aren’t my style. I like slower decks packed with tutorable one-ofs, but I decided to give building an aggro deck a try.

It was very easy to build the Doran deck, as the cards I wanted all seemed pretty obvious. The final numbers took a little longer, but I never changed the core of the deck from start to finish. Aggressive decks without tutor effects really can’t afford to play many one- or two-ofs, so most of the deck is natural fours.

The first draft of the deck looked like this:

4 Dark Confidant
4 Doran, the Siege Tower
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Eternal Witness
3 Loxodon Hierarch
2 Shriekmaw

4 Vindicate
3 Cabal Therapy
3 Living Wish
2 Thoughtseize
2 Profane Command

4 Windswept Heath
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Polluted Delta
3 Overgrown Tomb
2 Temple Garden
1 Godless Shrine
4 Treetop Village
3 Forest
2 Swamp
1 Plains

Wish Targets:
Kataki, War’s Wage
Gaddock Teeg
Indrik Stomphowler
Harmonic Sliver
Loxodon Hierarch
Yixlid Jailer
Golgari Rot Farm

After some initial testing, the I found the Wishes just didn’t fit. The deck was so aggressive that spending two mana on top of whatever creature you Wished for was too cumbersome. Additionally, the Shriekmaws were proving to be worse than Smother. Being a sorcery, not being able to hit Dark Confidant, and punishing you for five when flipped with Confidant all contributed.

On the other hand, the Profane Commands were just awesome. Credit for the Commands in the deck has to go to Patrick Chapin, as I hadn’t initially considered a 5+ mana sorcery in such a fast format. However, Profane Command does everything: it kills their guy early while returning a Tarmogoyf for 4 mana, and late game it kills them by Fireballing them and granting Fear to their Doran/Tarmogoyf. After more testing in various MTGO events and discussion with my roommates from the previous year, the deck ended up like this:

Two of the people I had been discussing the deck with – Owen Turtenwald and Tom LaPille – played it at the Winter King tournament in Kentucky. They both made Top 8, with Tom losing to Owen once there. That is also why the manabase is almost the same as the one Tom proposed in his article last week. The one Mox may appear random, but you really don’t want to draw two and it serves its purpose well enough. Sam Black randomly suggested it, and after trying it everyone seems to like it. Plus, having a list without at least one random one-of is just not me.

What this deck does well is drop a huge undercosted guy and back it up with disruption of various flavors. This is by no means an original concept, but what drew me to the deck in the first place is the availability of pretty broken options that fulfill all of the above roles. The traditional failing of Rock-type decks is that they lack a focused gameplan, but I think the cards have gotten so good that this deck offers broken starts that rival even the more linear decks. It is not uncommon to drop turn 2 Doran and have a piece or two of disruption to allow him to go all the way. Not many decks can beat a turn 5 goldfish combined with multiple Therapies plus a Vindicate. You don’t even really concede the lategame with the deck because of card advantage engines such as Dark Confidant, Eternal Witness, Treetop Village, and the power of Profane Command.

Going into a PTQ or Premiere Event, the decks I expect in the greatest numbers are Zoo (between two and five colors), Dredge, Counterbalance Blue, the Doran mirror, and smaller numbers of Affinity, Ideal, and Tron.

The sideboard that I think best deals with these decks is:

4 Leyline of the Void
3 Gaddock Teeg
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Krosan Grip
2 Indrik Stomphowler
1 Smother
1 Loxodon Hierarch

This sideboard has gone through many changes, and there are still many cards you could change depending on local differences and what decks you want to beat. Kataki has been in various earlier incarnations of the sideboard, as well as Pernicious Deed.


Zoo – This matchup is close, but I believe it is in favor of Doran. Most Zoo decks cannot easily deal with a Doran within the first few turns, and since Zoo deals itself so much damage it typically takes only three hits to kill them. The games you lose are when you take too long to get to three mana due to Molten Rain or Vindicate. Profane Command is better than I initially thought it would be in this matchup, even though X will usually only be 1 or 2. It kills the two guys who matter most, Grim Lavamancer and Dark Confidant, while simultaneously bringing back Tarmogoyf or Birds. Surprisingly often you will also use it to Fear Doran or Goyf for the last hit when they are trying to chump and burn you out. You basically always block when given the opportunity here, as trading a Goyf for a Kird Ape plus a burn spell fits into your gameplan perfectly.

I actually changed my sideboarding plan for this matchup midway through testing. Initially I took out the obvious Therapies for the two Jitte, Hierarch, and Smother, but I found what I consider a better strategy. Dark Confidant just gets killed early by a one-mana spell (Fanatic, Firebolt, or Grim activation), and late he is generally too risky to play. Instead of cutting discard, leave it all and cut the Bobs. It may seem counterintuitive, but Therapy and Thoughtseize are actually alright here. Despite the two life, Seize will generally take a more damaging spell or, more importantly, their next drop. Seizing their Goyf or Molten Rain often is exactly what you need to weather the storm. Therapy is trickier, but it too can prevent them from playing whatever card will beat you. It also gives your Birds more value, as sometimes a Bird will have little to no impact versus a Fanatic or Lavamancer, and now you can trade it for the best spell you just saw. Other cards I really like versus Zoo are Armadillo Cloak (better than Jitte in this matchup, but much narrower), and Engineered Explosives (contains the triple one-drop start for an affordable three mana versus Deed which was just too slow).

Dredge — Game 1 here is fairly miserable, as the only games I have won involved a turn 1 Seize or Therapy on the play or a turn 2 Doran versus a bad Dredge draw. Still, sometimes you can catch them off guard with a Smother on your Birds to nuke bridges, so a faint glimmer of hope exists.

Obviously, post board is better, but recent PTQ results may indicate a heavier proportion of Dredge than previously expected, in which case a Tormod’s Crypt or two may be in order. Teeg is reasonable, but only really buys you a little bit of time versus a heavy Bridge draw. With the sideboard I have been using, I add the 4 Leyline and 3 Teeg for 2 Profane Command, 3 Smother, 1 Witness, 1 Hierarch. Smother and Vindicate are pretty close in utility here, but randomly blowing up their land can be useful when they are digging for a Chain of Vapor with Leyline out. It can also be done on turn 2 sometimes to cut off their second enabler if they kept a one-lander. I didn’t really expect all that much of this deck, and Chapin said there was little to none at his PTQ, so I guess it depends on how much of a gamble you want to take. I think packing just the 4 Leyline 3 Teeg plan should be enough under most circumstances, but if you think Dredge will be out in force you really do want 2 Tormod’s Crypt.

Counterbalance / Next Level Blue — Chapin claims to be about even with Doran, and I have to agree. I tested 20 games with Chapin’s NLB versus my Doran deck, half sideboarded, and results came out exactly 10-10. The postboard games went somewhat better for Doran, but were still only 6-4 Doran. Counterbalance + Top is pretty annoying, but the only card you truly fear is Shackles. Without the Shackles, you can usually smash them fairly easily since they have no way to stop you aside from Goyf or EE. One of the biggest decisions from the Doran side of the table is when to forego casting spells to bash with Treetop. Yes, if they have Counterbalance + Top out its fairly obvious, but if you suspect a Counterspell on turn 3 or 4 even, sometimes you want to get in there. If they leave mana up and don’t do anything, often Treetops pressure them into tapping out at least partially, in which case you get to drop an assortment of idiots out. Try to run out as many of your under-four-mana spells before a Counterbalance hits, as the only ones you reliably resolve afterwards are Hierarchs and Profane Command.

I favor cutting the Mox, one Hierarch, and two Cabal Therapies for the two Stomphowlers and two Grips. Throwing away a card to Mox is usually not worth it, and it can even get Counterbalanced fairly easily. I somewhat like the Therapies, since it makes it much harder for them to hold counters, and they can even strip a Shackles or Counterbalance early. Later, it even gets Living Wish most of the time, as the Blue deck rarely can get and cast a target in the same turn. Something I came to realize after playing both decks in 8-mans and PEs on MTGO does change my opinion on this matchup. While both Chapin and I consider this matchup pretty even, I think skill actually changes this assessment quite a bit. The Doran deck is much easier to pilot than the Blue deck, so often Doran will be somewhat favored on that virtue alone. It is much more likely that the pilot of NLB will be making game-losing mistakes just due to the complexity of the deck.

Doran Mirror — The six Doran decks in the Top 8 of the NY PTQ indicates that the mirror is something to consider. There are no threats in the Doran deck that aren’t easily answered by Smother or simply playing the same creature, so most mirror games come down to a battle of attrition. An unanswered Confidant or topdecked Profane Command forced the most wins, although if one player manages to get far enough ahead on tempo it can be difficult to come back. Since both players are limited to one-for-one removal (with the exception of Profane Command), leading the board by a few guys can sometimes just get there. Good resource management is important, and there might even be some real creature combats where Hierarch’s regeneration ability is very useful.

Most Doran decks will have Jitte, and some will have Deed. I usually cut 1 Chrome Mox, 3 Cabal Therapy, and 1 Hierarch for 2 Stomphowler, 2 Jitte, and 1 Smother. Again, this is a matchup where the speed of the Mox is outweighed by the long term card disadvantage, so it goes. The discard isn’t a great lategame draw, but it is the best way to deal with Profane Command. Be aware that many Doran decks have the Deeds that were in the original list’s sideboard, so avoid overextending. Stomphowler isn’t totally dead even if they don’t have a target, so it is much better than Grip in that regard. For a while I had one Spiritmonger for the mirror in my sideboard, but that seemed subpar against anything else. If you choose to play Deed or Engineered Explosives in your sideboard, I would also bring them in here.

Affinity – If this season proves to be anything like previous Extended seasons, Affinity will be far less played in PTQs than it is on MTGO. If you suspect that to be different in your area, Kataki is needed in your sideboard in order to have a truly favorable matchup. Online I often run the 3 Kataki sideboard plan, since the affordability of Affinity makes it much more popular. Despite all that, you certainly aren’t just dead to Affinity. Ravager might be another story. The main reason I don’t like the matchup is your inability to efficiently deal with Ravager. Normally, they drop Ravager and you spend 2-3 mana killing it, then you must have another removal spell to kill the recipient of the counters. If they don’t draw Ravager or you can remove it quickly enough, you can generally overpower them. Doran blanks Plating, and your Goyfs and Witnesses should overwhelm them soon enough.

You also have a good number of incidental sideboard cards against them, namely 2 Stomphowler 2 Krosan Grip, 1 Smother, 2 Jitte, and 1 Hierarch. I cut the 4 Therapies, 2 Thoughtseizes, and 2 Dark Confidants. While you aren’t really bringing in any all-stars, you still have enough removal to punish a slower draw on their part. Birds or Mox are really important here, as you have a lot of three-plus-mana spells you need to deploy in order to keep up with their starts. Deed is a card I played for quite a while, but I eventually grew dissatisfied with it. It often is too slow against Zoo, as it essentially costs four mana there, and you have an abundance of spells at that point. In the mirror it is worth siding in, but isn’t usually that insane. The amount of removal present usually prevents it from being too devastating. It was at its best against Affinity, but the possibility of Needle and/or too fast a draw on their part led me to conclude that if you really want a card versus Affinity, just run Kataki. Deed is “flexible” but not really good enough in any matchup, especially since you have access to many devastating hosers.

Ideal/Tron — When facing any of the big mana decks (Tooth and Nail and TEPS also fall into this category), you are on a flat race. I have found Doran to be heavily favored, as your fast clock, six hand disruption spells, and four Vindicates usually get the job done. Teeg is really the nail in the coffin post board, as it basically is a Time Walk/Counterspell, requiring them to rip an answer and spend time casting it. Indrik and Grip usually come in also, although not against TEPS. It is usually easy to cut Smother and Hierarch, although some UG Tron decks do run Goyf.

Most of Doran’s matchups are close enough to 50-50 against the expected decks, which is a typical feature of Rock. I like the deck though, because it gives you the opportunity to actually play Magic, unlike something along the lines of Ichorid (or even Ideal). The games are fairly interactive, and a good amount of decisions occur. It is also easy to customize, as your colors give you the option of sideboard cards that can really destroy the appropriate matchups (Kataki, Teeg, Leyline).

If anyone has any questions or comments, I’ll be checking the forums!