Flores Friday — Extended Overview

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With the Pro Tour looming large, it seems that all the cool kids are playing Extended. Today, Mike turns his eye to the format as a whole, and dissects the major archetypes that will be making a splash in Valencia. Each deck is laid bare, with both strengths and weaknesses writ large for all to see.

It’s Batman and Robin. It’s the Green Hornet and Kato. It’s chocolate and peanut butter. It’s Extended and Standard.

This one is a one-two punch. The first part starts a pre-Lorwyn Extended SWOT analysis; old and current decks of significance will be analyzed on Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The second part is a minor post-Lorwyn (what we know about Lorwyn so far, anyway) Standard brainstorming session, with a couple of mini-reviews and a new deck or two inspired by some of the cards that has been revealed so far on the Mother Ship. Dig in your heels and unbutton the snug brass top of your trousers; let’s begin.

Extended Part

The first thing I did was go back to my old Swimming With Sharks columns from the first part of this year to tally all the little blue boxes I first tallied back this past winter’s PTQ season. The objective? To find out which Extended decks were good enough to win a PTQ. Remember, there was never a Pro Tour for this format, only the saggy, tired, third day of the World Championships, so PTQs make up the real pedigree for the decks of the format. The results are pretty interesting (U.S. results only)…

Aggro Loam 1111111111
Aggro Flow 1111
NO Stick 111
Gaea’s Might Get There 11
U/W Post 11
Affinity 1
Boros Deck Wins 1
G/W Haterator 1
Locket Combo 1
Tenacious ‘Tron 1
Tooth and Nail 1
Gifts Rock 1
Trinket ‘Tog 1

This list isn’t perfect, because the data set isn’t perfect, but it helps to show both the diversity of the format (which is almost exactly the same, set-wise as the end of the PTQ season) and where it might bulge. On top of these decks we know that Beasts won a PTQ, even if it didn’t make it into the [digital] pages of my own Mother Ship column; I also seem to have glossed over U/G Opposition. That makes for 15-16 distinct North American PTQ winning archetypes, minimum.

In a recent Online Tech column, Frank Karsten claimed that “[t]here are four clear top decks: Boros with Goyf, TEPS Desire, Aggro Loam, and Blue/Black CounterTop Tog.” I would agree that those are top decks, but my approach this time is to attack the format as if it has four-and-four-halves decks, which on top of those are graveyard-liner aggro-combo (Ichorid, Cephalid Breakfast) and big mana (U/W or U/G [Tenacious] ‘Tron and / or Cloudpost decks); it would be a mistake to discount artifact decks (Affinity, NO Stick) completely, and I am not the only person in the world who likes mid-range aggro or control Green decks. I put Frank’s list as four of the top six in real-life Magic.

Major Decks (Frank’s four to start)

Aggro Loam

Aggro Loam is arguably the strongest deck in the format, inarguably the most successful of the last PTQ season. It breaks the best card drawing engine since Necropotence more effectively than any other deck in the format, and it can get out of almost any situation using Burning Wish. Like every other deck in the format, it now has the ability to play a fat Tarmogoyf; between Tarmogoyf, Terravore, and Seismic Assault, this deck’s offense is about as offensive as a deck with 7-11 creatures with positive power can be. Devastating Dreams is obviously very good in this deck. I have always respected Loam because I could never beat it with NO Stick in pre-Worlds testing… the Loams and the Cabal Therapies – plus an awesome sideboard suite including both Shattering Spree and Ancient Grudge – were just ruinous for a heavily invested deck like NO Stick.

I can’t really think of one.

Loam was by far the most successful deck of the last PTQ season because it could beat almost anything. The entire Extended format is one big opportunity for Loam. It is not the most “unfair” deck in the format by any means, but because it rides multiple lines of proactive play, Loam cannot be completely shut down in the same way that many other decks can with a single Pithing Needle or Leyline of the Void. While it is very queasy about running into a Counterbalance or Chalice of the Void, Loam can over-pay on Engineered Explosives to dodge the two CMC hosers. Loam has always had a solid matchup with aggro; Wall of Roots versions obviously better than Dark Confidant versions. Unless the opponent has specific answer cards – hate cards, really – Loam can win any matchup that can be won via attrition (no comment on decks that can actually reject its attempts to interact with one and two mana one-for-one plays and disruption). Life from the Loam itself is the most powerful, essentially unstoppable, card drawing engine; it can fuel pinpoint discard and set up a single big turn, viz. Devastating Dreams and Terravore… If it manages to stick Seismic Assault and simply draws Life from the Loam, this deck can often win easily regardless of what the opponent does.

Loam has very specific vulnerabilities. Like any graveyard-reliant deck, Loam can have problems with Leyline of the Void or recurring Tormod’s Crypt. Because the deck attacks from multiple angles, these cards are far less “game over” than they might be for entirely graveyard-liner decks such as Cephalid Breakfast or Ichorid, or even the new Miracle Grow family. Pithing Needle is not game over, but it can be annoying; Suppression Field, though… The worst cards for Loam are Chalice of the Void and Counterbalance. You might notice that almost every worthwhile card in the deck – Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, Burning Wish, Devastating Dreams, Life from the Loam, and most importantly, Hull Breach – costs two mana. As noted above, even these cards can be beaten, if Loam is prepared.

Among the major archetypes, I see Loam as the second most difficult to beat.

Boros Deck (with Tarmogoyf, including sub-archetypes like Gaea’s Might Get There)

The Extended Boros deck is the realization of everything that good creatures and great burn spells have been moving towards since Jay Schneider’s first disciple realized how effective – yet unsatisfying – his Ironclaw Orcs were. This deck is fast, efficient, and deceptively disruptive. This deck is capable of – consistently – one of the strongest openings in the format, two-power one-drop into two two-power one-drops. Watch out for the Molten Rain; with six power in play on the second turn, no one really beats the Molten Rain.

Regarding Gaea’s Might Get There specifically, that sub-archetype can win from twelve with one guy, one mana, and three lands. Even though it generally plays fewer burn spells and essentially no disruption, Gaea’s Might Get There can deal four point five with one spell and two mana. Bang.

The biggest weakness the Boros school has is its manabase. Many players kid that it is the “start on 17” deck. I once watched Tsuyoshi Fujita play Boros and I didn’t understand what he was doing with his lands. The then-Resident Genius was fastidiously ensuring that he would take the absolute minimum amount of damage from his lands, allowing him to win razor tight beatdown mirrors.

That said, actually attacking the Boros manabase [conventionally] seems pointless. Mana disruption on turn 3 doesn’t do anything unless Boros is already manascrewed (everything costs less than the Molten Rain you are playing). The problem here is that the Boros lands deal so much damage going the wrong way; this is not a big issue in some matchups, but it can be positively lethal in those where every point counts.

Again from the Gaea’s Might Get There perspective, that sub-archetype is notoriously over-reliant on the Red Zone for this kind of a deck. Even with Tribal Flames, it can be difficult for Gaea’s Might Get There to stock up sufficient burn to win if the opponent stabilizes on the right stop signs (see also Threats, below). This means Gaea’s Might Get There will often fail to beat decks far weaker than it is, even at what it does well.

The speed, light disruption, and burn of a Boros deck make it a perfect weapon of choice in a format with untuned opposition. Any deck that falters, comes out sub-optimally, are just dead. Boros doesn’t have very specific prey… But perhaps more importantly, unlike some of the “more powerful” decks in the format, it does not auto-lose to completely unavoidable hosers, and by corollary, has essentially no distinct predators among “real” decks. That, more than anything, makes Boros a compelling choice among the available major archetype candidates.

Additionally, cheap burn spells like Lava Dart can help Boros win Tarmogoyf-on-Tarmogoyf fights in a format that threatens to be 40% Tarmogoyf decks (according to Patrick Chapin); ditto ditto ditto ditto ditto on Gaea’s Might Get There’s pump.

The specific threats to Boros are minor compared to some of the other major archetypes, but its lack of absurd card advantage makes it relatively easy to beat if you are concentrating on distinctly that goal; I put this cluster at the second easiest to beat among the major archetypes. Reasonably slow mid-range cards can frustrate the Boros offense… and the deck has essentially no late game. A single Loxodon Hierarch can be hard to beat, and especially for Gaea’s Might Get There, a Silver Knight plus a Smother might as well be Illusions of Grandeur plus Donate (beatable, but not easily). Boros is the kind of deck you can beat if you want to, and without having to use highly specialized, matchup-specific hoser cards.


If left unchecked, this deck is next to impossible to beat. Certain styles of customization (including Sensei’s Divining Top, say) allow for additional angles of attack for direct storm kills. Alternate finishers like Empty the Warrens give TEPS outs against Ivory Mask or other Tendrils defense. Like any storm combo deck, TEPS can be stopped at critical mass only via specific tools, viz. Time Stop or Stifle.

TEPS has multiple major structural weaknesses, many of which can be exploited interactively. The most obvious is its direct manabase. While TEPS often wins with no lands in play, or having won only one land, there is a reason for that… It only plays 15 lands. One of the main ways that Boros can beat TEPS is with the Molten Rain. Not only does that sorcery deal two damage, not only is a pre-Fundamental Turn Molten Rain essentially a Time Walk, but TEPS is a critical mass deck… if you kill its only land, even if it has a hand full of Rituals, they might never come out.

Speaking of the Rituals, TEPS is chock full of cards that have no effect on the game but to increase the storm count, and to generate enough mana to continue to jack the storm count, or to play expensive cards like Sins of the Past or Mind’s Desire. Cabal Ritual, Channel the Suns, Seething Song, Lotus Bloom, Rite of Flame… Do nothing after do nothing.

These two factors together make for difficult mulligan decisions, especially with sub-seven hands.

Lastly, and this is something important if you are looking to play TEPS, its defensive cards make the deck weaker on the fundamentals. Early Duress played for the purpose of getting rid of, say, a Rule of Law or Trinisphere, lowers the storm count two or three turns later.

TEPS is a potentially great gap choice. If a large portion of the format prepares or over-prepares for artifacts and graveyards with four Ancient Grudges and four Leylines, then TEPS can be the beneficiary of a format with the wrong sideboard cards. While it can be vulnerable to pinpoint discard due to having relatively few business cards, TEPS is a superb topdeck deck; the nature of any storm combo deck is to be able to build critical mass given sufficient mana so long as there is something to play.

TEPS is quite dismal if the opponent is sufficiently prepared. I put it on the absolute easiest deck of the major archetypes to beat. If you want to beat TEPS, consider it beaten. The slowest of the mid-range Green decks will beat TEPS every time if they put two seconds of thought into the matchup. The version Frank Karsten posted in Extended Education has no good way to beat a resolved Rule of Law or Trinisphere; while there are three Krosan Grips in the sideboard, those are instants, meaning that if you don’t know they are coming, you can’t use Burning Wish to find them. Also, and this actually matters, Krosan Grip costs three mana… There are a lot of games where TEPS doesn’t hit three lands. While TEPS is very quick, if it can be slowed down at all, a concerted attack on its manabase can be sufficient for the win. Like Aggro Loam, TEPS is more than a little vulnerable to Chalice of the Void or Counterbalance.

CounterTop Tog

Awesome card drawing. Best creature ever. Solid Counterspell defense. Damnation access (if you want it). Counterbalance combo. Unlike many Maher decks, the presence of the Counterbalance combo can defend the Psychatog player from his own Bob. Did I mention? Best. Creature. Ever.

If this deck has its machinery in play, it can’t really lose an attrition war.

Like a lot of top Extended decks, even Psychatog has some mana issues. Between land and Moxes, it has only 24 primary mana sources… and again, some of them are Moxes. Many versions splash for Ancient Grudge in the sideboard, stretching the manabase even more.

Unlike with Boros, attacking the manabase directly strong be profitable, but it depends on which angle you choose (more on that later).

The diversity of available cards in Extended has spoiled Psychatog players somewhat, and they skimp on the fundamentals. You won’t likely see a deck with four copies of Fact or Fiction.

Like any deck with Dark Confidant, this brand of Psychatog can just lose to its own Bob, though to be fair, in the version Frank posted, there are only eight three- and two four-mana spells in the deck, so it’s not like Bob will be flipping lethal sixes or even eights, as he often does in Standard.

There are two decks in the first three where I mentioned Counterbalance vulnerabilities; guess what? Boros is pretty vulnerable, too. Did I mention that Psychatog is the best creature of all time? He is a stop sign that every creature has to respect; okay, not like Llanowar Knight, but most every creature.

Counterbalance / Top creates a not insignificant psychological advantage. It is a hard combination to beat, and many players become frustrated or even desperate the minute it hits play.

Quite simply, CounterTop Tog is the hardest deck to beat among the major archetypes. It isn’t the fastest Psychatog deck ever… In fact, its early and even middle turn Psychatogs will rarely be lethal. However, Counterbalance makes this deck nigh untouchable interactively. While Psychatog decks have traditionally been vulnerable to exhaustion, the presence of Counterbalance / Divining Top makes it almost impossible to beat in an attrition fight. You have to bowl ‘Tog over or hate it out… You can’t really beat it in a fair fight.

Here are some of the cards that can hate Tog out:

Sudden Shock – This card alone scared Tog out of the metagame for a long time at the beginning of Time Spiral Extended. You can pretty much leave a two on top of your deck the turn before your play your Tog and everything should be fine. That said, if you play a methodical setup game, you run the risk of being run over by Boros.

Sudden Death – Same as Sudden Shock; CounterTop Tog has relatively few three mana spells. Theoretically a deck playing both Sudden Shock and Sudden Death could be pretty annoying for this deck (how do you win?).

Pithing Needle – Two resolved Pithing Needles could be a real problem, but just one Pithing Needle makes it possible for the opponent to win an attrition war.

Suppression Field – This card is hard on Cephalid Coliseum, Flooded Strand, Polluted Delta, and certainly Academy RuinsPsychatog and Sensei’s Divining Top get pretty bad, meaning Counterbalance becomes a little more balanced and Bob becomes actively bad. Stick this card and that might be all she wrote… Tog does run Spell Snare main.

Ancient Grudge – There are versions of this deck with as many as six artifact lands on top of Chrome Moxes. If they get the wrong draw and you pull a Grudge or two early… the superb cards in Tog will never show up.

Next week: Best of the Rest (unless I think of something more fun).

Standard Part

I’m just going to touch on the new Lorwyn cards we have seen this week and drop a deck list idea I have for each.

Gaddock Teeg

Gaddock Teeg is the stones, clearly the best card that has been spoiled so far. Here is a deck:

Kuroda-style Selesnya

4 Gaddock Teeg
4 Saffi Eriksdotter
4 Voidstone Gargoyle

3 Edge of Autumn
4 Into the North
4 Ohran Viper
4 Spike Feeder

4 Adarkar Valkyrie
4 Temporal Isolation

4 Arctic Flats
4 Mouth of Ronom
4 Scrying Sheets
9 Snow-covered Forest
4 Snow-covered Plains

I took the deck that Masashiro Kuroda used to win his Valencia PTQ (Fujita design, oddly enough) and hybridized it with a Snow engine, adding Gaddock Teeg. Gaddock Teeg is a great compliment to both Saffi Eriksdotter and Voidstone Gargoyle. A lot of decks will have one sub-four mana way to deal with Gaddock Teeg; Voidstone Gargoyle can pin that card. One and one with Saffi support can be greater than the sum of the component parts.

Harmonize was probably good in the original version; official non-bo with Gaddock Teeg… But Ohran Viper and the Snow engine make up for that.

I think this deck could be fun. My only reservation is that unless you stick Voidstone Gargoyle on or before turn 5 on the play, you might find yourself on the wrong side of a Planeswalker.

This deck is obviously pretty speculative. I’m sure that there will be more Lorwyn cards worth playing. Unlike a Cryptic Command deck, this one is not going to have a very good shot in the first against Wild Pair or another combo deck, at least barring Voidstone Gargoyle.

The thing I really like is that this deck has a lot of expensive spells. It is nice to be able to bias CMC so that you can play fours and sixes when the opponent can’t play his defensive fours or card drawing.

Timber Protector

Maybe this card is awesome… I don’t know about Treefolk any more than you do at this point. I went straight for Natural Affinity, but it’s not in X.


This is a superb Black giant, as far as Black giants go, 6/6 for six. I ran Gleancrawler on the Pro Tour and it was good (same mana cost, same size). If mid-range monster decks are good enough, this card could be good enough… He can certainly finish games, and will typically trump Tarmogoyf (but six against two should trump).

Liliana Vess

I don’t know how good the Planeswalkers will be… That eight loyalty ability on this one seems pretty savage, though… I think she will combine well with both discard and creature destruction. There is really no downside to a card like Damnation in a Liliana Vess deck… Eight undoes anything you lose symmetrically.

Rings of Brighthearth

I am actually having a hard time figuring out what to say about this one. Sacred Mesa, maybe? You want not only good activated abilities, but also enough of them to make the investment in an additional card worthwhile. I actually think you want to jam the theme… Everybody is a good activated ability, not just one or two for a “combo” but more value everywhere.

Cryptic Command

4 Underground River
4 River of Tears
4 Tolaria West
4 Snow-Covered Island
3 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Academy Ruins
4 Dreadship Reef
2 Urza’s Factory

1 Tombstalker
4 Shadowmage Infiltrator
3 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
1 Triskelavus

4 Cryptic Command
4 Rune Snag
1 Pact of Negation
1 Slaughter Pact
4 Damnation
1 Haunting Hymn
4 Cancel
1 Careful Consideration
4 Mystical Teachings
1 Spell Burst

This is just the deck I posted on MagictheGathering.com again, based on Unbeatable.dec. This should be pretty good against control and really suppress Standard combo. Beatdown… Not sure yet.

Cryptic Command is probably not as warping as Gaddock Teeg, but it is still pretty awesome (provided you are still able to play it).

That’s all I’ve got for this week.