Feature Article – UBG in Extended, and A Word On Mulligans

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Thursday, January 14th – The Extended PTQ season continues apace, and deck builders worldwide are looking for the elusive strategy that can bring home the blue envelope. Fan Favorite Gerard Fabiano believes he has found such a strategy, and he spills the beans inside…

I am a strong believer in the strength of the number seven, and its obvious superiority over the number six. In fact, seven is so powerful, it eight nine. If weeks were six days instead of seven, do you think they would cut a work day? No. You would be kissing your precious Saturdays goodbye. Worse yet, who would there be to make Sneezy, Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Bashful, and Grumpy happy if there were only six dwarfs? And a sixth-inning stretch? I don’t think so. Who would ever go see a movie called Six Pounds?

In this article, I am going to cover when I think you should discard your seven-card hand and try to win with fewer. I’ll also present a new UBG Extended decklist.

Let’s start with the decklist so you don’t just skim to the end looking for it.

This deck is the result of what I learned about the format after playing one of the Magic Online PTQs. I finished second with a Bant Deck, losing to Affinity in the finals. What I learned from that tournament is that the format is pretty slow. Extended is always hyped up with stories about people winning on turn 2, or making a turn 1 20/20 all the time. But, just as in my last article talking about Steppe Lynx, Vampire Lacerator, and Adventuring Gear in Sealed, it’s nothing but hype. Sure, you can get lucky and make a turn 1 20/20, but there is also a chance your opponent will have an answer for it and your “nut” draw won’t get you there. Even Zoo decks are underperforming, because people are expecting to see it now. One of the reasons why the Affinity deck won is because almost no one had Kataki in their sideboard. You can count on that not being the case anymore. The Extended season will be here for a while, and many different decks will take home the envelope, but for the next couple of PTQs I think the UBG deck is the way to go.

When I was playing Bant, I knew a card like Wrath of God would wreck me at any given stage of the game, but I felt comfortable in the knowledge that no one played it anymore. This week, I decided that I wanted to play a deck where Wrath wouldn’t wreck me, in case the metagame shifted and a deck that could support it decided to put a couple in its 75. The deck you’re looking at can be an aggro or control deck, and each game you play will be much different to the last.

Let’s break down each card by category so you can see the reasons why I play them.

Creatures and Win Conditions

1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror – I played one copy in my Bant deck’s sideboard, and he was always the nuts. When you have Meloku in your deck/hand, you can turn almost any aggro match-up into an attrition battle, using him as your trump card. Many decks won’t be able to beat him, since the card advantage gained is unreal. With Thoughtseize and Vendilion Clique to clear the way, and your counters to protect him, he will take you to victory most times you get him into play.

4 Tarmogoyf – He is the best creature around, and the only reason this deck is splashing Green. A turn 1 Thoughtseize followed by a Goyf is one if the best starts for this deck. He also combos well with Thirst for Knowledge, since you can grow your Goyfs at instant speed.

3 Vendilion Clique – He is about the second-best creature around right now, and he fits perfectly into this deck. Normally, if you have him in your hand on turn 3, you want cast it on your opponent’s draw step, but that isn’t always correct. Try to think out the way the turn will play out, and what he could have. Sometimes it is better to wait until the end of your opponent’s turn 3 or 4 (depending on who played first). In a match-up where he has counterspells, he may try to run out a Goyf with counter backup. In this case, by playing Clique end of turn you force his hand in making him use his counter or lose it, leaving you open to untapping and answering the Goyf unopposed. That was just one example, but it will come up more often than you may think, especially if you Thoughtseized or Duressed on the first turn or two. Clique is also a nice target for Jitte, which is your best weapon against Red Burn Deck or Affinity.

2 Venser, Shaper Savant – Venser is a card that I feel doesn’t get enough respect. With the format slowing down a lot, he became much better. He is your best weapon against other control decks that play Ancestral Vision, and is all around very versatile. Against Dark Depths he really shines, teaming with Repeal and Threads of Disloyalty to make the matchup favorable. Between Venser and Clique, you have five instant-speed creatures that can come down at the end step to surprise your opponent and give you a creature to wield the Jitte. My basic idea when it comes to deckbuilding is this: I want to be able to always keep my opponent guessing, unsure of what’s coming next. Venser fits that role nicely.

2 Sorin Markov – Sorin is insane, and if you aren’t aware of that, try him out. It is on the same level of Wallet-Slayer Angel in Extended. It does everything you want it to in a deck like this, and the Mindslaver effect is almost always game-breaking. With Path to Exiles and other non-burn cards being the removal of choice, Sorin gets to dodge all the hate. No one really has good answers to Planeswalkers in Extended. For example, a card like Maelstrom Pulse is fairly common in Standard, but rarely seen in Extended. Another strong point is that Planeswalkers are tough to play against, which brings me back to the point I made earlier about Venser. Keeping your opponent off guard and giving them really tough decisions is one of the keys to successful Magic.

2 Threads of Disloyalty – Threads is a polarizing card, in that can be great in a match-up, or simply awful. Luckily you have both Chrome Mox and Thirst for Knowledge to get rid of it when you don’t want to cast it. Threads are best against any decks with Goyf, but they’re also good against Affinity or Dark Depths since it is still usually a two-for-one. Even if you have to steal an Arcbound Worker, it still gives you another guy for Jitte and one less artifact for them.

Counters and Card Draw

4 Thirst for KnowledgeThirst is simply the best card draw in the format, and that’s why I am playing all four. It’s better in a deck with more artifacts, but with eleven to discard it’s still fine. In most of the games I played, I ended up pitching a Mox in the mid game, or an extra artifact land. You can also do some tricks with Meloku or Venser by returning one of your artifact lands late game to pitch if you already have enough lands. If you don’t have an artifact to pitch, you can pitch a Threads if it’s useless in the match-up, or a card like Mana Leak once you are deep into the game.

2 Spell Snare – Two-drops are the new black, and everyone is playing them. The only real question is should you be playing three or four copies. I chose two because it fits a narrow role and isn’t always good. The basic rule of counterspells is that if the threat is already in play, the counter won’t do anything. Spell Snare is even worse because if you draw it against the wrong threat, it still won’t do anything.

4 Mana Leak – Leak has the same problem that Spell Snare has, but it is less narrow, and that’s why I am playing four of these. Early game they are great, but once it gets to the late game they become less valuable because your more experienced opponents will play around them. Still, these are very important early game to keep your opponent in check.

4 Cryptic Command – This card is so good. It gives you another weapon in the attrition battles, and it can always have a use. Keep in mind during the early game that Cryptic Command is triple Blue and Sorin is triple Black when you are choosing what to get with fetch lands, so you don’t get to a point when you can’t do both. Normally, with your dual lands and seven fetches you are able to cast both just fine.

Other Stuff

2 Umezawa’s Jitte – This is the best equipment in the format, and some decks have almost no chance to win once counters get on it. A deck like this would love to have Mutavaults to be able to have a creature to equip much more often, but the way most games play out you are always in a position to have use for it, even if it means pitching it to Thirst for Knowledge, or just using the legend rule to kill your opponent’s Jitte. The life gain is the most important ability, since once the deck takes control you want to get yourself out of random burn spell range. Also, against the Mono Red burn Decks, keep in mind they play Flames of the Blood Hand; choose your moments to gain life carefully.

3 ThoughtseizeThoughtseize has become one of my favorite cards over the years. Being able to know exactly what your opponent has makes playing the game much easier, especially with counterspells in your deck. Getting a turn 1 Thoughtseize followed by a turn 2 Tarmogoyf is one of the best starts the deck can get. You should then be able to hold up some counters and take over the game. In the beatdown match-ups, board them out for the most part, and against Mono Red I was siding in Duress for them. Also, Duress and Thoughtseize is the way to make sure you have a good match-up against Scapeshift.

1 Engineered Explosives– It is a nice one-of in the deck, to handle some permanents late game or to clear the board against Zoo if you happen to draw it early. Again, this is just another surprise I decided to throw in. It’s also really good when your opponent isn’t aware of how many of each card you play, since it makes it that much harder for them to play around.

The Mana

2 Chrome Mox and 24 lands – I feel 26 mana sources is more than enough, and each land is important for the deck. Duals and fetchlands fix your mana, while your artifact lands provide cards for you to discard to Thirst for Knowledge. Basic lands are there to avoid losing to Blood Moon, and to save yourself some damage.

I feel this is a deck you guys should try out. This deck is different, fun, and good enough to win a PTQ.

My thinking about the sideboard is as follows. I really don’t like having a set sideboard plan, and I normally just wing it, but a guide you can somewhat follow is this.


3 Duress

3 Pithing Needle

2 Extirpate

2 Tormod’s Crypt

3 Doom Blade

2 Damnation

Duress – Bring in against Mono Red Burn, All-In Red, any control deck or combo deck.

Pithing Needle – Mostly there for Affinity, since most Affinity decks will have no answer for it and will shut down some of their best cards. You could play a card like Hurkyl’s Recall, but Pithing needle can come in against other decks, such as Thopter Foundry decks, or strategies with Tezzeret the Seeker.

Extirpate – I would want this against Dredge or some combo decks. Even in some control match-ups, you could bring this in.

Tormod’s Crypt – Mostly against Dredge.

Doom Blade – Bant, Zoo, Affinity, Red decks, or any deck that might have Wallet-Slayer Angels. Some control decks board into Wallet-Slayers, so think about boarding the Doom Blades in even if you didn’t see targets. These decks may also bring in Meddling Mage.

Damnation– Again, basically the same decks you would bring Doom Blade in against, except for the Red decks since their guys are mostly Hellspark Elemental and Goblin Guide. Or if they are playing All-In Red, you wouldn’t want the Damnation, but you would want the Doom Blade for the most part.

Robbie Cordell played a list very close to this at a PTQ this weekend, and here’s what he has to say about experience:

My name is Robbie Cordell, and I talked with Gerard about this deck while we were designing it a few days ago. I decided to run it in the PTQ in Atlanta, GA this weekend because I wanted to try something innovative. I went 4-2 drop on the day, which was a rather disappointing performance considering everything that I feel the deck has to offer. We played different lists by five cards, but the idea was the same. One of the reasons that I felt the deck could perform well was because of the unexpected power that Sorin provides. I feel like cards like Sorin, Venser, and Meloku are not getting the respect that they deserve, and you are able to use that to your advantage. Every time I casted Sorin in a game, I won, and as Gerard stated earlier it is very easy to protect Sorin to ensure he sticks when cast, based on the amount of countermagic and the Thoughtseizes the deck possesses. I would recommend this deck to anyone who is looking for something new and exciting, and I feel like everyone should consider a deck like this when choosing your deck for the upcoming PTQs.

That’s the summary of the deck. If you have any questions, just post in the forums. I would like to hear if anyone plans on playing this next weekend.

Early in the article, I talked about mulliganing. I am a fan of keeping hands that might not seem too good if you think they can develop into better hands. In Limited and Constructed, it is different. I am more likely to mulligan in Constructed. However, in Limited, I almost never mulligan.

If you mulligan, you are down a card. Yes, this is obvious… but let’s look at why I don’t mulligan.

My opening hand is:

Whiplash Trap, Umara Raptor, 4 Plains, 1 Island.

To me, this is an instant keep. You are most likely playing 18 lands in this format, so that means out of 33 cards you have 13 lands and 20 spells remaining. Odds are telling you that you are more likely to draw spells than lands for your next six draws. Too many players they will examine their curve, think about how fast or slow their opponent’s deck is, and so on. For me, this isn’t close, and it’s because I feel like I can draw out of it, and I know what type of game I need to play. It’s pretty basic… if you have only two lands and five spells, don’t damage race. Instead, try to trade creatures in combat and do whatever you can to stay in the game, because you will eventually draw lands, and when you do you will have lots of spells to play that will help you get back in the game and take over.

When I draft my decks – and this is something you should do — I try and take cards that allow me to keep one-land or six-land hands. This is one of the game’s biggest secrets. A card like Ponder is insane. When you pick it, you might think “it’s a passable pick,” but it has so much hidden value people never factor in. Reckless Scholar is another card that is pure gold. It allows you to keep six-land hands if the Scholar is your seventh card.

A lot of people have the “I can do better” attitude when it comes to mulliganing, but lots of times it’s because people just don’t understand. I can make whatever points on why you shouldn’t mulligan, and many people won’t agree. However, the best way to make your game stronger is to try things you don’t normally try.

Next time you’re playing and you have a hand you are thinking about shipping back, instead just keep it, and figure out what you need to do to get full use of all your cards. Did you ever lose the game with three really good cards in your hand because your opponent top-decked the Burst Lightning on the last possible turn to kill you? There is a good chance you messed up, maybe because you attacked with your guy, or you didn’t chump block.

Limited is totally different to Constructed, because each game can largely be predicted beforehand. In Limited, you will always have to adapt, and I would prefer to adapt with a full seven cards rather than six.

Thanks for reading…