Feature Article — Who’s The Extended Beatdown?

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In an open metagame, such as the current Extended, it’s advisable to pack your deckbox with threats rather than answers. However, if everyone is playing threats, and Red aggro decks abound, how on earth do you gain an edge in the aggro mirror? With Pro Tour: Valencia fast approaching, Steve examines a variety of Red decks and shares a few tips to improve them for aggro-on-aggro battles.

While preparing for Valencia, I keep coming back to the same question:

Is it possible to reasonably bend a Red beatdown deck to beat other Red beatdown decks?

It’s pretty easy to figure out how to beat decks like Affinity, TEPS, and Dredge with your Red beatdown deck. However, it is much harder to determine the best way to beat other Red beatdown decks is. This process is so difficult because much of it depends on what type of beatdown decks you expect other people to be running, and what anti-beatdown cards you expect them to bring with them. If your opponent is playing a Frank Karsten style R/W/g deck then it is very unlikely that he’ll be able to contest an Armadillo Cloaked Soltari Priest. If, however, your Gaea’s Might Get There opponent is bringing in a set of Smothers, that Cloaked Soltari Priest is rarely going to do more than embarrass you, acting, at its best, as a glorified two-card half a Gerard’s Verdict. If your opponent is packing a bunch of Umezawa’s Jittes and/or Swords, then you are sure as hell going to want to bring in some Ancient Grudges… but if your opponent doesn’t have any equipment, boy are you going to feel like a dunce when you draw a bunch of worthless Shatters. If your opponent has a bunch of Grim Lavamancers and Savannah Lions, you’re going to want your Lava Darts

While trying to answer this question I’ve come to the conclusion that there are so many drastically different decks in Extended right now that you can’t reasonably specialize your beatdown deck (and probably any other deck, for that matter) to dominate more than one or two matchups. As a result, unless you have some sort of huge innovation – the type that everyone (myself included) is hoping to find before their next tournament – it is currently correct to pursue a very powerful linear strategy. Then you can either diversify your sideboard to improve your matchups across the board, or specialize it to dominate a couple of strategies. The correct answer is almost always a mix of these two ideas. If you can find a set of cards that allow you to dominate a couple of matchups and still have room for cards that are generally good, then you probably have an excellent sideboard for the tournament you are playing in.

Because of this, I believe that the goal should be to play the best cards possible in your beatdown deck and simply avoid gimmicks (at least for game 1). While a Cloaked Soltari Priest can be devastating in some matchups or situations, most of the time you would be better off just Cloaking up a Tarmogoyf, a play which most Gaea’s Might Get There decks are fully capable of doing even in their pre-sideboarded state.

And onto the decklists:

This is the Frank Karsten inspired Boros deck that I played at the end of the PT: Yokohama qualifying season. I really liked this deck, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to walk away with an invite (I lost in the semis of one PTQ, and I lost playing for Top 8 in another two).

4 Kird Ape
4 Grim Lavamancer
3 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
3 Savannah Lions
4 Lava Dart
4 Rift Bolt
4 Silver Knight
2 Jotun Grunt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Char
4 Molten Rain

4 Wooded Foothills
4 Windswept Heath
2 Flooded Strand
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Barbarian Ring
1 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
1 Plains
1 Mountain

4 Ancient Grudge
4 Armadillo Cloak
4 Pyrostatic Pillar
3 Temporal Isolation

And my Tarmogoyf update:

The Chars and Rift Bolts are there to get around Chalice of the Void and, slightly less effectively, Counterbalance. I think the mana can be reworked slightly now that the deck doesn’t need WW for Silver Knight.

I absolutely love this deck, and it is particularly effective if you are expecting a field full of Tog and Affinity. Unfortunately, I think this version gives up too much against the other popular beatdown decks because of the damage it takes from its lands.

While the main deck is pretty straightforward (though the metagame may dictate the removal of the Firecats), updates to this deck should almost certainly have access to at least some graveyard hate. The tournament that Owen played this deck in featured TEPS as the big bad combo deck (hence the Pyrostatic Pillars in his sideboard), but the mantle of Big Bad has since been replaced with the graveyard-reliant strategies of Breakfast and Dredge. While the Pillars might still have a place in Red deck sideboards, either them or the Vortexes are going to have to go for a set of Leylines or Crypts.

Blood Moon would also feel quite at home in this deck, though it is probably better suited for the sideboard. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if it stuck into some people’s RDW main decks.

Turtenwald’s Red deck doesn’t have Lightning Helix, but it might be the best Red deck against other Red decks because saves itself upwards of three damage a game from having lands that don’t need any life to come into play vertically.

Another question that I keep coming back to is:

How good are Stone Rain effects in a format full of explosive beatdown decks, turn 2 kills, and Life From the Loams?

If the format winds up actually consisting of just those types of decks, then Stone Rain effects probably won’t be very good. If instead the format winds up full of Psychatogs and Mindslavers, then you probably want to carry at least a set of Molten Rains wherever you go.

For reference, here is Tsuyoshi Fujita’s PT: LA Top 8 deck featuring eight (!) Stone Rain effects.

1 Plains
4 Mountain
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Windswept Heath
1 Eiganjo Castle
1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep

4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Savannah Lions
3 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
4 Goblin Legionnaire
3 Kataki, War’s Wage
4 Firebolt
4 Lava Dart
4 Lightning Helix
4 Molten Rain
4 Pillage
1 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

4 Purge
3 Fledgling Dragon
3 Blood Moon
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
3 Flametongue Kavu

While this list is clearly quite outdated it shows that, assuming the conditions are correct, it is indeed possible to run a large number of Stone Rains in Extended to great effect. Also of note are the Blood Moons in Tsuyoshi’s sideboard.

More recently, Mark Herberholz made the elimination rounds of GP: Dallas with this four-color, eight Stone Rain beatdown deck.

While Gaea’s Might Get There has proven to be by far and away the most successful Tribal Flames deck, this style of deck is much better against Tron and other mid-range control strategies than Gaea’s Might Get There. While there probably isn’t any room for this style of deck right now, if the format slows come the next qualifying season then this style of deck could easily find a home.

Unfortunately, I believe that the waters are currently so unfavorable for this type of eight Stone Rain deck that I can’t even begin to ponder an update for it, short of removing all of the elements that make this deck unique. But I urge you to keep this deck in mind if you feel that there are going to be a lot of mid-range decks at your upcoming tournament.

As for Gaea’s Might Get There, there’s a bunch of different ways to build the deck. Though the various lists are rarely more than a few cards apart, those simple cards make a world of difference. If you want to pick up an edge against beatdown you can go for Armadillo Cloaks. If you are just looking to speed up the clock you can add Reckless Charges. If you are looking to get some more reach you can add Rift Bolts or Incinerate etc.

I like the inclusion of Seal of Fire in this deck because it serves a role against beatdown as an extra burn spell, and against non-Tarmogoyf decks as a way to make its Tarmogoyfs bigger. I’m not a fan of the Mishra’s Baubles as simply an artifact, as you will rarely get a benefit out of them against other Tarmogoyf decks, and the marginal benefit that you would get against non-Tarmogoyf decks will only come into play when you have an uncontested Tarmogoyf, a situation which should be very good for you anyway. If, however, the justification for running Baubles is that there are only a certain number of cards that you actually want in the deck, then I think it would be a very reasonable inclusion. An important thing to keep in mind with cards like Mishra’s Bauble is that even if it is right to add it, you always have to be sure that you are adding it for the right reasons.

Richard Feldman posted a more traditional Gaea’s Might Get There list in his last article:

The most exciting addition to Gaea’s Might Get There that has occurred since the end of last season (not including Tarmogoyf) is Reckless Charge. While I think that Feldman’s three Reckless Charges are a bit much, they are a completely justified inclusion as even the beatdown decks are moving away from instant speed removal, instead opting for more Tribal Flames and/or Rift Bolts instead of Shocks and Incinerates.

And the burn-heavy version that I am currently working on:

I always want my Red decks to have a lot of reach and this deck certainly has that. I structured this deck the way that I built my Boros deck, with the biggest difference being Gaea’s Mights in place of Molten Rains.

The one thing that bothers me about this version is that by cutting the Reckless Charges I might be giving up too much against decks with Damnations. However, I believe that this deck compensates for that by running an abundance of burn spells.

It’s very easy to think that Gaea’s Might Get There is the best beatdown deck available, and it very well might be. But it is important to keep in mind that the deck is far more reliant on its creatures than most Red decks. Interestingly enough, Gaea’s Might Get There doesn’t actually give up anything against other beatdown decks by being more reliant on its creatures. In fact, it gets a huge leg up in Tarmogoyf fights by running both Tribal Flames to kill opposing Tarmogoyfs and Gaea’s Mights to protect their own Goyfs.

The conclusion that I have come to, which I expect most other people who have been immersing themselves in the format have also found, is that both Turtenwald style Red decks and Gaea’s Might Get There are quite good options, whereas Karsten style Boros, as much as I love it, just isn’t very good (at least for the time being).

Yours until the cows come home,

Steve Sadin

Bonus Section: Destructive Flow

I have been becoming very interested in Stuart Wright style Aggro Flow recently. Just like pretty much every other deck that is looking to win through combat damage, this deck gets a huge boost from Tarmogoyf. For reference, here is Stuart Wright’s 6-0 deck from last year’s Worlds:

And my update:

This deck is in need of tuning, and could very easily wind up just being worse than an evolved Flow Rock deck (Flow Rock being by far and away the most successful version of Flow from the later parts of last year’s Extended PTQ plus GP season). One big plus to this deck is that it has some of the best tools for beating Psychatog in Sudden Shock and Smother. While this deck will probably end up being a dud, the ability to play Flow in a deck with a fast clock is very appealing.

For reference, here is the Flow Rock list that Dave Irvine used to win a Florida PTQ last season:

2 Swamp
5 Forest
1 Mountain
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Wooded Foothills
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Blood Crypt
1 Stomping Ground

3 Eternal Witness
3 Wild Mongrel
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Dark Confidant
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Chrome Mox
3 Putrefy
2 Call of the Herd
4 Cabal Therapy
3 Duress
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
3 Destructive Flow
2 Sword of Fire and Ice

1 Duress
1 Destructive Flow
2 Krosan Grip
3 Ancient Grudge
3 Tormod’s Crypt
3 Smother
2 Flametongue Kavu