Feature Article – Sadin on Extended

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The Extended PTQ season is officially in full swing. How did you do this weekend? Me, I went 1-2-drop with Affinity. Steve Sadin, newly minted Level 3, rocked up to his local PTQ with an Affinity deck too. This article takes a look at the improvements he’s made to the archetype, and outlines the dangers of which you must be aware for next week’s PTQ bonanza…

Extended season is officially go!

While there was an early PTQ at Worlds, it didn’t break too much ground (although it did introduce Spire Blue as a viable deck). The first real influential Extended tournament since Valencia was the Bluegrass Magic Winter King tournament, where Aggro Doran decks burst onto the scene. Soon after that event, Aggro Doran became the deck to beat.

For reference, this is Owen Turtenwald winning decklist:

Because of the recent (costly) changes to Level 3, I am allowed to play in PTQs for each individual PT until I gain an invite by any means other than being Level 3.

As I could play, there was no way that I was going to miss the first PTQ of the season at Neutral Ground, my local gaming store. Interestingly, this is also the first time in years that I have played in a PTQ where I was affected by card availability issues. If I really wanted to I could have picked up all the cards that I needed, but I wasn’t about to reduce the pool of cards available to my friends who actually had a slot to play for.

I’ve played a 100-plus games of Extended, with a bunch of different decks since Worlds, but few of the decks that I’ve played have really impressed me. Of the decks that have piqued my interest…

I think Chapin’s Next Level Blue deck is very good, but so did a lot of my friends. So there simply weren’t enough cards to go around for me to build a copy.

Aggro Doran is obviously awesome, but I didn’t think I would learn much about the format by playing it at a PTQ. As learning about the format is my number one goal right now, Aggro Doran wouldn’t be a good choice for me.

Cephalid Breakfast seems good, but I didn’t feel comfortable playing it against Doran Rock decks (even though I think it’s a passable matchup), so that wasn’t an option.

I really like playing Red Deck Wins at PTQs, but I couldn’t figure out how to make a Red deck that was good against Doran Rock decks and still competitive against the rest of the field.

Gifts Rock seemed like a good choice against what I expected would be a field consisting primarily of mid-range decks, but I didn’t know enough about the format to figure out the best silver bullets, so that was out.

I continued agonizing over what deck to play until the night before the PTQ when I decided that I would play Justus Goyfs, my team’s deck from Valencia.

I’d played this deck a lot while practicing for Valencia so I knew the ins and outs of most matchups. And, even though the deck didn’t post any good finishes at Valencia, I still think the deck is very good. The only change that I made from my Valencia list is that I added a few Ancient Grudges, because I was concerned about the deck’s matchup against Next Level Blue, Spire Blue, and all other sorts of Shackles decks.

I showed up to the tournament site deck in hand, ready to play, when I found my friend Matt Boccio scrambling around trying to find a complete deck. When it became clear that the only way Boccio would be able to play in the PTQ is if I lent him my deck, I handed it over to him.

While there was no way that I would prevent a friend from playing for a slot when I would only be playing for a plane ticket, I was still kind of bummed because I thought that I would be unable to play in the PTQ as I had promised to lend the only other Extended deck I had built, Affinity, to Jamie Parke. I gave Jamie a call at around 9:50 to see if he’d be coming, but he had slept in too late to make it in time, allowing me to play in the PTQ.

I had built Jamie Bill Stark Fatal Frenzy Affinity list, but I made some adjustments to Bill’s sideboard. Bill sideboard contained Tormod’s Crypt, Ancient Grudge, Ronom Unicorn, and Thorns of Amethyst. I wasn’t expecting much Ideal or TEPS, so it was pretty easy for me to cut the Unicorns and the Thorns. I still wanted some game against combo decks so I added a set of Cabal Therapies to the board. I was also expecting a good number of Katakis and Hurkyl’s Recalls, and Spell Snare acts as a very good answer to both (and unlike other “answer answers” like Darkblast, Spell Snare is almost never dead). While it was very hard to cast Spell Snare before, Springleaf Drum makes it relatively easy to leave up Spell Snare mana in key spots.

I beat Goblins in Round 1, a casual RG deck in round 2, lost to Chris Lachmann playing Gifts Rock in round 3, beat RGB Dark Zoo in round 4, and conceded to Josh Ravitz playing Affinity in round 5.

While Bill’s version of the deck was really powerful, it had a number of weaknesses that I think need to be addressed. Most importantly, there are a few key things that my deck would have to contain in order to improve its matchup against Doran decks.

First off, the deck absolutely needs 4 Darksteel Citadels. I don’t know how I forgot this for this PTQ. When I was playing Affinity in years past my deck would always have a large number of Darksteel Citadels, Blinkmoth Nexuses, and Welding Jars, which allowed me to beat the Rock easily. While it certainly won’t be that easy to beat the Rock now as they have much better, much cheaper threats and access to great hosers like Kataki, having the ability to shrug off a Pernicious Deed is just as important now as ever.

While we’re still on the topic of beating Deed, I also neglected to include Pithing Needles in my main deck or my sideboard. As the most popular Doran decks right now are Aggro Doran decks that are similar to the Owen’s list above, we don’t have to worry about running into too many main deck Pernicious Deeds, so the Needles can safely live in the sideboard.

While I liked the Atogs and the Fatal Frenzies, I don’t think they’re good enough. While the Frenzies allow for a lot of turn 3 and turn 4 kills, the card Doran single handedly shuts down Fatal Frenzy (and Cranial Plating). Instead of playing with a card that is completely dead against the card Doran, I think it is better to just play with Shrapnel Blasts

Once the Frenzies are gone, the Atogs don’t really fit, and as I already have Green in the deck for Ancient Grudge, Tarmogoyf seems like a pretty natural inclusion.

With these thoughts in mind I give you my updated Affinity list

I was a little bit surprised when I realized just how streamlined this version of Affinity actually was, but after a while it began to make sense. The reason why streamlined versions of Affinity are popular aren’t because they suck… they’re popular because they are really powerful. Bill’s version chose to give up some resiliency for additional power, an exchange that I ultimately decided wasn’t worthwhile because of the overwhelming popularity of Doran.

One card that I am very interested in trying in Affinity is Root Maze. John Pelcak talked about adding it to Valencia-era Affinity lists here. Affinity remains one of the best game 1 decks in the format, but it gets a lot worse after sideboarding. While I am pretty sure that Root Mazes aren’t good enough when on the draw, they seem very tough to beat when on the play. If Root Maze works even half as well as I think it does, a lot of matches against sac-land heavy decks could play out with Affinity winning game 1, losing game 2, and then winning on the back of a set of Root Mazes in game 3.

If you are playing in a PTQ next weekend, these are the top 5 things that I believe your deck needs to be able to do in order to take home a Blue Envelope:

1) Your deck needs to be able to beat Tarmogoyf.
2) Your deck needs to be able to be able to beat Aggro Doran. Not only is it one of the most popular decks, a lot of the players playing it are going to be amongst the top players at your PTQ. The Top 8 of the Neutral Ground PTQ contained 32 Tarmogoyfs, 24 Dorans, 32 Dark Confidants, and 20 Vindicates.
3) Your deck needs to be able to beat Affinity. While it might not post a lot of Top 8s, Affinity is very popular right now. The Neutral Ground PTQ that I played in last weekend was littered with people (myself included) who were playing Affinity.
4) Your deck needs to be able to beat Vedalken Shackles. While there might not be too many Spire or NLU decks, they have a tendency to rise to the top. I expect that Shackles decks will post a lot of Top 8s for the next couple of weeks.
5) Your deck needs to be able to beat Ancient Grudge. As both Affinity and Shackles decks are key decks to beat, expect the popularity of Ancient Grudge to shoot through the roof very quickly.

With these things in mind, if I had to pick a deck for next week I would probably play some sort of Rock deck that is good against other Rock decks. The first thing that comes to mind is Gifts Rock with a set of maindeck Deeds and additional Affinity hosers in the board.

While I don’t have a good Gifts Rock list yet, I’d recommend taking a look at Tom LaPille Worlds NY PTQ report as a place to start.

Take care!

Steve Sadin

PS: For those of you who are still interested in Standard, I played my UB Faeries deck at Neutral Ground’s annual New Year’s Day Time Walk tournament, and was once again very happy with the deck. I lost in the semis to John Price playing RG Mana Ramp. While RG Mana Ramp may seem like a terrible matchup, it is very winnable as long as you draw a Pendelhaven to protect yourself from Cloudthreshers and Sulfurous Blasts.