Feature Article – Thopter Foundry in Extended, Emeria Angel in Standard

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Monday, January 11th – At Worlds, William Cavaglieri rocked Extended to a 6-0 finish with Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo. Today, he shares his list, thoughts on the deck, and its place in the current metagame. He also brings us his Mono White Standard deck of choice… [Editor’s Note: Patrick Chapin’s article will be here tomorrow!]

First of all, I’d like to apologize for those people out there who were expecting part 2 of my report from Worlds. Real life got in the way, and it doesn’t make much sense to publish it now. Not that you are missing much… I went 3-3 with a couple of mediocre drafts, and then I had the perfect deck for Extended, which I will cover soon. Luckily, I think my testing and opinions on Extended are all still valid, as I kept playing it since Worlds, and things haven’t changed much.

I will now describe how I tried to solve the Worlds metagame; later, I’ll try to apply the same principles to the current metagame. At Worlds, the field was easy to predict:

1) A lot of Zoo (I expected almost 40%), with examples sitting all over the spectrum, from the most aggressive (Landfall Zoo) to midrange (Kibler / Rubin Zoo). The percentage was rounded by decks that try to be cute but have a similar plan, like Bant, Doran, etc.
2) The 3 combo decks from the Pro Tour: Austin Top 8 (Dredge, Dark Depths, and Hypergenesis). Another 30%.
3) People trying to be a step ahead by playing some sort of “trump” for the format. There are 2 general approaches: either some sort of “answer” to the format (Nassif Control (that Riccardo Neri played to a 5-0-1 finish), Death Cloud, things like that); or a deck that is under the radar, like Scapeshift, All-in-Red, or Affinity. Note that this approach is very popular in Standard, where 30% of the field is made up of decks that are under 5% in popularity.

For Worlds, playing Option 1 was a good way to go 3-3.

Option 2 is generally wrong because:

– Combos can rarely stand the hate, and these weren’t under the radar anymore.
– The other Top 8 decks in Austin had already quite a lot of hate against these three, and people tend to just copy a lot, especially sideboards.
– Most players hate to lose against combo, and overreact.

Option 3 is where I like to be the most, especially if you have time to prepare. A card that seemed very well positioned was Blood Moon. For some time, this was my first choice:

10 Island
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Breeding Pool
1 Tolaria West
4 Chrome Mox
2 Simian Spirit Guide (I almost wrote Elvish… I’m old *sigh*)
3 Engineered Explosives
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Repeal
4 Blood Moon
4 Thirst For Knowledge
3 Vendilion Clique
2 Firespout
1 Vedalken Shackles
1 Sower of Temptation
1 Compulsive Research
1 Careful Consideration
2 Cryptic Command
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
1 Arc-Slogger
1 Siege-Gang Commander

3 Magus of the Moon
3 Sower of Temptation
3 Tormod’s Crypt
3 Relic of the Progenitus
3 Jace Beleren

The bunch of one-ofs aren’t there because I went crazy, but to show you all the possibilities I went through. As a side note, none of them were horrible. Careful Consideration is the most suspect, I guess, but this list has so many dead draws… It felt like a better Gifts Ungiven all the time.

The deck performed fine in testing; in the end, it’s a sort of Haterator with Blue to fix your ugly draws – just a bit more aggressive than your average UR Tezzerator. I liked it more than the usual Tezzerator lists because at least it doesn’t try to control everything in the game as they (kinda) try, which to me seems like a losing proposition in this format.

In any case, it wasn’t my style: I’m the kind of player who would never bring All-In Red to a tournament, and this deck concept isn’t too far from it.

I then started to look for decks under the radar, and I spent some time looking at Austin’s top Extended decks, mainly their sideboards. I noticed that out of 19 Zoo decks, the average was 1.8 Ancient Grudge; 0.6 Duergar Hedge-Mage, 0.6 Kataki, and 2.3 Qasali Pridemage (between main and sideboard). So, there wasn’t much hate for artifacts around.

Nico Bohny suggested Affinity with Thopter Foundry, while I wanted to play it with Blood Moon main. I then remembered that Affinity sucks. I then realized that a control deck based on Tezzeret could easily play enough artifact mana to make it lethal the turn after it comes into play. The idea to Wrath, then play a Tezzeret, untap two and protect it with a Repeal or a Path seemed appealing. Gifts Ungiven and the Thopter Foundry combo were natural additions.

Gifts disappointed me, as it always does. On the other hand the Thopter Combo was much better than I thought: it felt like playing Meloku, on steroids, in Limited. Randomly drawing the combo was much better than fitting the deck with a bunch of answers (Trinket Mage package, Chalice of the Void, etc.). Thopter Foundry alone wasn’t completely useless, randomly winning a game once in a while just by making a token here and there (as you can see in the China versus Austria coverage). For reference, in the end I played this:

Talisman was a good addition, working fine with your curve (especially with the eight one-mana spells), giving extra protection against Blood Moon and counting for Tezzeret and Thirst for Knowledge — and yeah, it accelerates your mana. Of course, the card is not perfect, as it makes you mulligan a little more etc., but I was happy with it. Still, if the format slows down as it seems now, I can see cutting one and a Mox for 2 lands. The fourth Spell Snare is rare to see, and I doubt I would ever play it in a pure control deck, as it’s a bit narrow. Here it was fine, since the cards you care the most about cost 2: Meddling Mage, Qasali Pridemage, Ancient Grudge, Kataki, Mana Leak, Thopter Foundry… All considered, Snare is bad only against Hypergenesis and All-In Red (with the latter being a very easy matchup). For some time I played with Blinkmoth Nexus and more artifact lands, but they aren’t worth the trouble. I also toyed around a bit with a UB version, but Dark Confidant and Thoughtseize didn’t seem to add much. Keep Black in mind if control and combo start to be dominant. I played Chalice only to stop Hypergenesis and Extirpate. One of the Wrath of Gods should have been a Day of Judgment — you never know what a Meddling Mage will call.

I went through all these steps only to end up with a pretty standard Thopter Combo list. When in doubt or out of time, go for the Wisdom of the Crowd (if you feel patient, read this great article from Adrian Sullivan). As of today the only change I made is to add a couple of Baneslayers in the sideboard over the 2 Chalice.

I prefer my version over those with Gifts Ungiven made popular by Luis Scott Vargas, for the following reasons:

– I don’t think it’s such a good idea to have more answers in such a wide open format. I prefer to have more combo pieces. Theoretically, the Gifts version is more flexible post sideboard against hate, but you still have Tezzeret to kill them, or a bunch of creatures out of the sideboard if you like.
– You have an edge game 1 against the Gifts version, since you play more relevant cards for the mirror.
– it’s a simpler and more linear version, which for normal people like us count.

Anyway, I consider Thopter-Combo the best deck in Extended, whatever the version. It’s full of answers and hard to hate out. Graveyard hate is kinda useless, Extirpate aside, as the combo is more a (amazing) kill condition than the cornerstone of the deck — plus, you always have artifacts to spare in response to save the Sword. Things like Spell Snare and Ancient Grudge are good against the combo, except that sometimes the Thopter player will just kill your guys and land a Baneslayer meanwhile. It’s also the only good control(ish) deck out there at the moment, which means it will be incredibly popular.

I don’t have any specific sideboard plans, as they can vary too much. For example, in the mirror I wouldn’t bother to leave in Path to Exile against their Baneslayers, but I would if they play Extirpate. In general, I don’t mind removing one or two Chrome Mox in the mirror, a mana source going second, and from 2 Swords up to the whole combo in matchups were it’s not that important, mainly against Hypergenesis, Dredge, and Scapeshift.

Even though I believe this is the deck to play if you have time to learn it, there are other ways to qualify. These are your options on how to “solve” the current meta:

– Master how to pilot a tier 1 deck and try to tune it for the current meta. A good example is Saitou Zoo, with Negate and Bant Charm to off-balance his opponents. By tier 1, I mean a deck that is in everybody’s mind, yet one that can still reasonably win the tournament.

– Play a combo deck that is off the radar. In Austin it was Dredge, at Worlds it was Scapeshift, and online Dark Depth is doing well again. Who knows, maybe it’s time even for Hypergenesis to shine again. To choose correctly, study the sideboards, track some stats, and be ready to switch to something else if necessary.

– Go rogue and try to position yourself correctly, usually around a card or a strategy. Years ago Destructive Flow made an otherwise mediocre deck playable. In Austin, Blood Moon won quite a bit of money for a bunch of people. Death Cloud is doing very well online because there are a million Zoo and Scapeshift decks. This is the hardest path as it requires the most effort, but it works better at the PTQ level, where people will do more mistakes because of surprise value and lack of testing.

As a bonus, this is the deck I’d play if PT: San Diego was tomorrow:

To be honest, I wouldn’t share this list if it wasn’t that I can’t attend. After a bazillion matches online, this deck proved to be a clear tier 1. It has highest rate of surviving Baneslayers in the current Standard, which is usually enough to win the game by itself. I don’t feel like the deck has any bad matchup, to be honest, but of course this is more than likely biased by skill and surprise value. In particular, everybody is so focused into beating Jund that they have an incredible hard time against this list. UWR Control has Spreading Seas, Flashfreeze, the mediocre (against you) Earthquake, and no Day of Judgment, and Luminarch Ascension is no fun either for them. Mono Red and Boros have nothing against you that is comparable to Wall of Reverence and Baneslayer, power wise. Devout Lightcaster is an obvious bomb against Vampires, and you can contain their Malakir Bloodwitch with Wall of Reverence and Martial Coup. Eldrazi Green is weak against Baneslayer, Brave the Elements, and Martial Coup, while you have Oblivion Ring to contain their game plan a bit. And believe or not, I don’t mind when I’m paired against Jund.

I preferred Elspeth over Ranger of Eos because I felt it forces more spot removal and it makes the games longer, making your Baneslayers better. The Duress, Path, Zealous Persecution, Brave the Elements… These are all cards that can be easily switched around, as they cover specific holes and situations but you rarely want them in multiples. Zealous in particular is very good against half of the field and won me a lot of games, but I suspect it was more because of surprise value than anything. I mean, it’s always amazing when you wrath Boros board or counter a key Earthquake for two mana, but it just sits in your hand most of the time. Since it’s quite horrible against Control, and mediocre against Jund, it’s probably better to keep it in the sideboard. Terramorphic Expanse is better than Arcane Sanctum, but it interferes with a Sculler plus Orchid hand, sometimes also with Devout Lightcaster. If anything, with Arcane Sanctum you can pay for Quenchable Fire. Tidehollow Sculler does more than enough when it interferes with their development and eat a removal, so don’t be too greedy with it — delaying a Blightning or Bloodbraid Elf one turn is often better than taking their Maelstrom Pulse or Bituminous Blast. Knight of the White Orchid is tricky, as there are times where I just drop it turn 2 and others where I even hold lands to get extra value out of it. I never thought a card that is often worse than a land and worse than any other two-drop could be so important, but it makes the deck work in dangerous situations. It’s in the same class as Sakura-Tribe Elder, a card that is rarely better than a Rampant Growth but sometimes just saves the day.

I’d be happy to answer any questions in the forum, and feedback on my writings is welcome. If enough people would like me to do so, I could write another article with more detailed sideboard plans and play-by-play games, Menendian style, both on Standard and Extended.

Thanks for reading!

William Cavaglieri