Since the great and mighty fragster – known only as The FerretTM – has put forth a request for more internet-audience submissions, I have decided to deliver this completely ridiculous and absurd article for your reading (dis)pleasure. Note that unlike Osyp, I will not tell you any interesting stories like the one where my wife and I played Type 4 while locked in the back of a dump truck collecting monkey teeth in Madagascar, nor will I provide links to pictures of incredibly gorgeous females like Halle Berry as Chris Romeo does.
Instead, I will drone on about a deck that looks like it came out of a pack wars draft; from a nobody who has never played Extended before playtesting for this article. No joke – I’ve really never played it before I decided to write this article, even though I’ve followed up on the format and have read a lot about it for years.
Now, I’m sure somebody is going to read this article and say, “Wow. What a piece of garbage.” Or perhaps, something more like “What a waste of space. I should just play whatever Dan Paskins is playing.” To these people, I say the following: There’s more to be had here than a decklist. There’s a real point if you actually read through the article. To those who are looking for something different, well, you’ve come to the right place.
But really – why are you reading this? Perhaps it’s because, like Oscar Tan, I am associated with funky headgear; or perhaps because us Jewish dudes know way more about a good pastrami sandwich then Friday’s Flores ever will. (Best served hot, with Russian and cole slaw. And I mean an actual Russian, the gender of your choice, wearing nothing but strips of cabbage.) Or perhaps, since the great and amazingly talented Chad Ellis has the funniest facial expressions ever, I am permitted to make this incredibly nonsequitor comment in the middle of a paragraph to bolster a nonexistent argument. (So there.) Regardless of the reason, you are reading this and are probably waiting for me to make a point before you punch me through your computer screen.
Seriously, though: the reason why you’re reading is because you know that Extended is a blast right now; a lot more fun than pre-bannings Standard. A lot of people that I know have now become interested in exploring the Extended metagames for the first time, and just want to play in a PTQ for the experience of it and/or for fun. These same people might want to win a few matches as they learn the metagame but not have to shell out the big bucks to play in a format that can often require some pretty hefty and expensive firepower. (Unless, of course, you purchase your stuff from SCG and save with their “[email protected] l0w [email protected] price$, yo” as Crazy Carl Winter would say.)
I’ve always loved the Blue Skies archetype – I’m a big fan of aggro-control decks, and while this is not quite aggro-control, it’s fairly inexpensive and a blast to play. It’s also great for casual settings without feeling too “tourney-powered” and thus aggravating your friends who may be playing more casual decks. Here’s a look at what I will be bringing to this next round of PTQs, if only to advertise what has to be the dumbest deck name ever:
Kosher Blue Cheese [for Extended]
by Nathan J. Xaxson
3 Cloud of Faeries
4 Spiketail Hatchling
4 Waterfront Bouncer
4 Gilded Drake
3 Kira, Great Glass Spinner
4 Aether Vial
3 Powder Keg
6 Polluted Delta/Flooded Strand
4 Energy Flux
3 Arcane Laboratory
This deck is obviously far from a great deck – and I’m sure some of you in the forums will have plenty great suggestions on how to improve it. (Translation: The author is making a desperate call for attention so that he doesn’t feel like a complete imbecile for submitting such a stack of toilet paper.) There are lots of directions to take this deck – and it could probably be tuned into something a bit more solid. As an example, you’ll see that I will bring up Stern Proctor as a potential card for inclusion somewhere, and once you run that, Voidmage Prodigy begins to look attractive, too. And no, I’m not going to make a lame attempt at humor by saying I’ll wait for you to click the link; there’s enough lame humor in this article already.
When I sat down to create this heap, I decided that since I’m playing for fun, I was going to build a deck that makes my opponent say, “Wow; that really sucks!” – and then have him or her repeat it when you wreck their core strategy with a deck as bad as this – if you get really lucky. (Most Magic players, however, don’t have the stud power of Michael Clair or attractive names like “Smennycakes”, so don’t take that last quote out of context.) I’ve spent the past week or so tuning it and playtesting it, making changes in order to hone it into a respectable “casual competitive” deck.
Honestly, there is a very small opportunity to earn a respectable finish in the Extended PTQs with this grossly underpowered abomination. Not that you shouldn’t expect to ride this thing to a Top 8 or anything, but hopefully, you should have fun earning a decent tying record or even make Top 32 by practicing the most likely set of decks you’ll see at a standard PTQ. The key to realizing why this marginal pile of blue trash has some game is because Extended currently revolves around two major deck archetypes: aggro decks, and (most often) combo decks that use key creatures. A deck focused on inexpensively robbing opponents of key creatures can mean the difference between winning and losing. It also means that your principal finisher will often be another deck’s creatures; a wonderfully fun way to beat your opponent, even if not always practical. (“OK, so I’ll steal your, uh, Cephalid Illusionist…?”)
There are lots of opportunity for surprise here, and a lot of it revolves around the sheer power contained in Aether Vial. (What a shame that your opponents can play it, too, huh? And with even more broken creatures!) There have been many games where I’ve played an early vial, tapped out during a turn for, say, a Standstill; and then Vialed in a Cloud of Faeries to untap two lands for a Counterspell. Alternatively, you can just dump a Spiketail into play as a free Force Spike. It’s clearly an important component to the deck, as it is with all creature decks.
Of course, that means most opponents will be smart and try to take out your Vials. Expect to see quite a number of Overloads, Seals of Cleansing, and/or Oxidizes; as Aether Vial will be a prime target. Yes, it will suck. But a principled writer and player will tell you that it will teach you an important lesson about Magic: don’t rely too heavily on one card to make a deck work, because if you do, you will lose. If that’s the case, then with this deck, you will certainly lose if you expect the Vial to be the penultimate core of your strategy. Learn to play the deck from all angles, even if it means tapping out to play a creature. This can often be the right move, especially if you are playing a Spiketail Hatchling.
Only a few other comments, and then we’ll get down to business. First, Stifle can be outrageously good in this format. There will be lots of Aether Vial activations to stop, Ravager sacks to halt, and fetchlands to neutralize. It also gives you some additional help against Desire decks, even though it’s not the end-all-be-all that some think it is. Second, Meddling Mage would be a nice addition if you didn’t have to sell a kidney on the black market for a playset. (This coming from a guy who owns the P9.) Third, Standstill is a natural fit for a reactionary deck with both Aether Vial and Waterfront Bouncer; hence it’s use despite the lack of manlands.
With all that behind us, let’s take a look at the matchups in the Extended gauntlet. This section alone should justify this waste of words by at least summing up what you should expect to see at a PTQ (and is a testament to how the format is so diverse, you might even win a matchup or two).
This is definitely your best matchup. Gilded Drake is a pain for Reanimator decks, but Aether Vial and Waterfront Bouncer added to the mix make this matchup downright difficult for them to accomplish anything. Besides the need for them to get past your counter magic, they have to put up with potential instant-speed creature theft and repeatable maindeck bounce. You can play a Gilded Drake during their attack off of an Aether Vial, steal Hell-Hath-No-Fury-Like-Akroma-Scorned, and then untap, Vial in a Bouncer, pitch a card to get back your Drake, and leave a frown on the Reanimator’s face. With Kira, your opponent is forced to rely on Sickening Dreams to eliminate your ability to dominate the board, but that still won’t get rid of the big fattie you’ve stolen. In addition, at that point, they have to get past your counter wall before you kill them with their own creature. Cephalid Breakfast is slightly harder since they can kill you in one assault, but it’s a very all-in trick: if you can bounce or kidnap their Sutured Ghoul, they’ve pretty much got nothing.
Sideboarding: Nothing necessary, but Stifle may be less than useful, depending on the build – if so, then -2 Stifle; +2 Propaganda (so that if they want to attack you, they can’t deal with anything else that’s going on). You may find that Standstill is subpar here as well, so you may want to side those out instead.
Red Deck Wins
This is a matchup that will initially really swing a lot if you’ve never played the matchup. It’s also the reason I don’t have any Blinkmoth Nexi in the deck – RDW is too prevalent and after some testing, they were just too much of a liability. Kira is great here, but Gilded Drake is subpar, since you will most likely only be able to steal Lavamancers as 1/1 dorks and Jackal Pups as potential liabilities. Waterfront Bouncer should be able to save you from Blistering Firecats, so keep an eye out when your opponent starts aiming tons of burn in that direction. Alternatively, RDW can try to aim its burn at your dome, which is actually harder to deal with. In games two and three, however, you’ve got a much better chance – Chill should slow them down enough so that they can’t burn your creatures out, especially with Kira on the table. If you’re lucky enough to resolve two Chills, it’s very hard to lose. They may try to take out your Aether Vials – which may slow you down, but it also means that they’ve made the wrong play. After some practice, you can win this matchup most of the time. Stifle’s only real use here is to hose fetchlands, but may have some other uses depending on the build; especially if they opt to run Tangle Wire. Sideboard accordingly.
Sideboarding: -2 Stifle, -2 Standstill; +4 Chill.
Goblins is probably one of the hardest (winnable) matchups you will face. Game 1 is practically an autoloss unless you play extraordinarily well and mulligan appropriately – sideboarding will help make games two and three salvageable. Goblin Piledrivers will certainly make this harder for you. Chill plays an important part of sideboarding, but opposing Aether Vials will help them get around that hoser – so while you can slow them down, you won’t be able to shut off their threat base like you can against RDW. Propaganda should help slow them down even further, which should put you on a more fair playing field. If you can actually manage to get the Waterfront Bouncer/Gilded Drake online with Kira, you can steal enough of their creatures to neutralize the Piledrivers and provide you with untargetable blocking fodder. Sometimes, you can manage to steal a Kiki-Jiki, BraZoken Goblin and go broken yourself: grab a Siege-Gang Commander and start pumping out your own 1/1 dorks; although be aware this won’t work if you’ve got Kira in play.
Standstill is terrible in this matchup due to Aether Vial, so you can afford to side a lot of that out. Don’t overcommit – watch out for Burning Wish which fetches Pyroclasm and Cave-In; which can decimate you. Save your Spiketails for when you really think you need them. If you’re running Stern Proctor, they can be good in this matchup, since Goblin decks will need to reaccumulare Vial counters to bring in the real mana-intensive board-changing plays. Be smart with your Powder Kegs, too. Stifle is a great response to Goblin Matron, Goblin Ringleader, Siege-Gang Commander CIP triggers, Piledriver enlargement triggers, Vial activations and the legendary KJMB.
Sideboarding: -4 Standstill, -3 Daze, -1 Counterspell; +4 Chill, +4 Propaganda.
These decks are, by definition, annoying as anything. Thankfully, you’ve got some decent tools to work with. In addition to counter magic, you can bounce or steal (via Vialing a Gilded Drake) their creatures in response to Worthy Cause. Wasteland Starlit Sanctum, because without Stifle it’s pretty much game over. The biggest problem in this matchup is that there is so little that you can do to make the matchup better – there’s nothing that really makes this deck easier to beat other than the usual kidnap-and-attack plan: use bouncing Drakes to keep them from ever maintaining an appropriate creature combo pair. Steal the en-Kor creatures first, and if you steal enough creatures, you can use their infinite-toughness combo to defend yourself while you beat down in the air. In the case of Cephalid Life, assault their manabase as well.
Sideboarding: Probably nothing. Arcane Laboratory might help as you can keep them from casting more than one spell per turn, but it doesn’t matter if they resolve Aether Vial. Of course, there’s always Sway the Stars. I’m sure everybody will be packing those gems, right? (Well, actually, I could see them being used in Desire; but that’s something that the editor should be pointing out, not me.)
Hail to the czar of bustedness that is Arcbound Ravager! Despite the massive hate that you can pack against this deck, there is a chance you will basically lose before you can even draw your initial hand. Game one is almost impossible to win; they are just so much faster than you and their threat density is just outrageous. Games two and three, they are forced to deal with a swath of hate: bring in the Propagandas, Fluxes and even the Arcane Labs. Of course, it means you must actually cast those threats in the match. This matchup is the principle reason I’m running Powder Keg – It can slow them down on turn 2 by taking out their lands, or turn 3 after a fuse counter to eradicate Disciple, Workers, Chromatic Spheres, opposing Aether Vials etc. If you win the match, you’re probably pretty lucky. Do keep in mind you’re raising your curve a bit; you might want to play with it a bit and figure out your own custom sideboard plan. This is also another matchup where Stern Proctor would be very good, if not downright amazing. And I’ll tell you, if you are playing with Misdirection, surprising them with a Misdirected Fling – now that’s fun.
Sideboarding: -4 Standstill, -4 Aether Vial, -1 Daze, -1 Counterspell; +4 Energy Flux, +3 Propaganda, +3 Arcane Laboratory.
This is one of the few matchups for which your deck lacks that humiliating touch of saying, “Neener neener neener! I just beat you with a bad fish deck!” Gilded Drake doesn’t do much here, but it can steal their opposing Sunscape/Nightscape Familiars, so they are somewhat useful; although Waterfront Bouncer can deal with them just fine. Basically, attempt to counter the critical pieces (Cunning Wish, Sapphire Medallion, Mind’s Desire I guess). Admittedly, I have not found a playtester that really knows the deck well, so I can’t say that I think I completely understand the matchup. Nonetheless, it’s pretty evident that it’s not a very good matchup for you. Kira, however, does prevent them from using Snap to slow down a creature assault. And a tip in the hat to Stern Proctor, who would be great for defending those Arcane Labs and bouncing your opponent’s Sapphire Medallions.
Sideboarding: -3 Gilded Drake; +3 Arcane Laboratory
Other than Mother of Runes, there is very little in this deck that concerns you. Kira forces them to use two Whipcorders (or a Whipcorder and a Big Mo’) to tap you down. Try to counter MoRunes if you can; other than that, have lots of fun when you steal their Exalted Angels. And remember Kira? Yeah, once you’ve got that Butt-Kickin’, Life-Gainin’ Chick, she isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Post sideboarding, you’ve pretty much sealed the deal. Also, steal True Believers to shut down Cursed Scroll aimed at you (Kira will help neutralize it against your creatures). Meddling Mage, if they are playing it, can be a nuisance, but not a real problem. Powder Keg is a pretty nice hoser here.
Sideboarding: -4 Standstill; +4 Propaganda
This matchup, surprisingly enough, is pretty good for you. U/G’s only way to deal with problematic creatures are Waterfront Bouncer – potentially not in their deck – and Gilded Drake out of their board. Even if they do have them, you have something they do not: Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. Kira will almost completely neutralize the threat of opposing Gilded Drakes unless they invest an extra Bouncer activation to steal her, in which case you just play another one to destroy both. Even so, you are wholly more efficient, and if it comes down to a war of the Waterfront Ah-nolds then you should win. However, if they are not running Bouncer, you can just mess them up all day long. You’re also set up with better counter magic, and Powder Keg takes care of troublesome Rootwallas or Aquamoebas & Mongrels, and thrashes Roar tokens nicely. Wonder is mostly pointless since almost all of your creatures fly anyway, and the ones you steal can just attack them back. After sideboarding, you should be able to maintain an upper hand since they will be hard pressed to make an alpha strike. Versions that splash Red for FTK are another story (although Kira mitigates this somewhat), but Madness manabases are brutal enough, so I don’t think many will opt for the Flametongue plan.
Sideboarding: -4 Standstill; +4 Propaganda
I don’t expect to see it come out in full force, but Pattern Rector always seems to show up here and there. Counterspells, Wastelands, and theft are your best bets here prior to boarding, with Stifle allowing you to wreck them if they get ahead of themselves. Post board, they could have just about anything, but either way, the matchup is about even. Suggesting what to side out is hard, since the builds vary so much, but from the builds I’ve played against, Kira will not be an important factor. I could be wrong here, so try to study the opponent’s deck in game one.
Sideboarding: -3 Kira (unless something else is more appropriate based on the opponent’s build); +3 Arcane Lab
If you think you’re winning this matchup, you’re delusional. But since I am delusional, I aim for the manabase with Wastelands and attempt to counter Aluren at all costs, even though Cabal Therapy will make that unlikely. Arcane Lab is great – if you can get it to stay on the table. Again, good luck with that plan. Yes, that’s sarcasm.
Sideboard: -3 Standstill; +3 Arcane Laboratory, -100 IQ points if you think you can make this match favorable
I have honestly not even seen a build of this deck discussed in a while. It is, however, a really terrible thing for you to have to deal with. Your deck is not designed to play beatdown all that much, and here, you don’t have a choice. Your best strategy is to use Stifle and Wastelands to assault their manabase. Side out the useless Gilded Drakes and go for the throat. (Not literally, even though many casual players fantasize about doing so to control players.) What’s even worse is that a Powder Keg set to two, which will knock out an Isochron Scepter, will also shred most of your creatures. Sideboarding here is probably a waste unless you’re running Stern Proctor, which gives you a chance with an Aether Vial.
Sideboarding: -4 Gilded Drake; +4 Stern Proctor if you’re playing them in the board
Basically, counter the Solitary Confinements and Academy Rectors (stealing the Rector isn’t good enough, although Stifle will do). If you can do that, though, you can win. Stifling the Squee trigger can also help if they have no cards left in hand, which is a possibility albeit a small one. If you expect to face this deck, it’s another vote for Stern Proctor. Sometimes, this combo is included in Scepter-Chant decks; either way it doesn’t matter since you aren’t likely going to win.
Sideboarding: -4 Gilded Drake; +4 Stern Proctor if you’re playing them in the board
Whenever I hear it called this, it makes me want to sing at the top of my lungs “Where in the World is Carmen San-Di-Plaguelord?” (Of course, that usually ticks off the judges, and then they tighten the straight jacket, which becomes a little uncomfortable. Anyways…) The Rock is your worst nightmare, even worse than Aluren or Scepter-Chant. They pack a ton of disruption which can often be used over and over again in recursion; and Pernicious, indeed can really ruin you like Anna Nicole Smith. (There’s no need to end that sentence; no example of ruination is required.) Ravenous Baloth is the epitome of mass suckitude for your measly two-drops. You cannot possibly counter all of their disruption, so expect to lose. Save your Stifles for Pernicious Deed if possible, but again, with them stripping your hand, it’s unlikely that will happen.
Sideboarding: -60 cards; +20 Black Lotus, +20 Wheel of Fortune, +20 Lightning Bolt. You’re going to lose anyway, you might as well have fun and get a loss by DQ. It’s not like you were winning prizes anyway.
In conclusion, there actually is an important lesson to be gained from playing this deck: deck synergy can make or break a deck, regardless of the cards. Even if the deck seems truly subpar when taken down to the individual card level, good interactions and internal combos can make a deck function like clockwork. With fifteen two-mana creatures, Aether Vial can change the whole dynamic of a deck; Gilded Drake is maindeckable when it can be reused at little cost, and that you can exploit seriously potent hate cards to bolster you chances of winning as long as your hate is well-targeted.
So, for those spikes who are waiting for their strategical tidbit, here it is: If you are going to think about how to break out a new deck, or bring a rogue deck that steals the show, you have to start with a core theme – deck synergy. You need to know how your deck becomes a cohesive working machine engine rather than just a bunch of moving parts. Once you do that, you find that there’s something there to work with. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s taken some of the metagames ideas I’ve mentioned and already pieced them into a deck that actually looks and plays like it’s competitive.
But most of all, for everyone else – you should learn that having fun doesn’t mean you have to win all the time – and conversely, that it’s impossible to have fun if you always lose.
– Nathan J
(a.k.a. The only guy you’ve ever heard of whose last name really begins with an X. Although admittedly, JClaytor’s got some name game against me.)
njx on the SCG forums
*No live squirrels were shot during the typing of this article. Only dead ones.