Flores Friday – Problems and Solutions in Extended

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Today’s Flores Friday sees Mike dissect the pertinent problems in the modern Extended environment, and offer some proactive thinking in order to combat them. It’s safe to say that, at the beginning of this fresh and exciting metagame, the more successful players will be those that’ve identified a hole in the format and attempted to drive a Buick through it. Let Mike show you how!

I played in the Extended PTQ at Worlds and went 0-2. I went with the Gold deck, knowing how I could lose… and that’s how I lost. The first round was a Life from the Loam deck straight out of last year, but updated with Tarmogoyf. I got the first game on a nice swindle. The second game his one Terravore held off my should-have-been lethal army for five turns, during which I didn’t draw a Wish, Deed, or Vindicate; at the end of the five turns he had a Tarmogoyf and another Terravore and overwhelmed me. The last game… What a heartbreaker. I had some four drops, he had some ‘Vores. I wished for Deed. He pulled Duress (clutch) with one card in hand, smashed me. I thought about my next turn and Wished for Armadillo Cloak. I win this race by three. Smash. Gain. He plucked a second card, thought for a second, and played Devastating Dreams for one… discarding a Bloodstained Mire. A land?!? Argh! The second round I lost to Aggro Rock, which is my least favorite deck. There was a gem of a turn where I had two 2/3 ‘goyfs and he had a 2/3 ‘goyf and a Call token. He Putrefied one of my men, and… Argh!?! No attack. He spent three Putrefies and it seemed like a good time to Wish up my Spiritmonger (Ravitz tech). Convenient time for the last Putrefy. What are you going to do? I can’t say I expected the 0-2 exit, but…out mid-ranged.

I have been working on Extended hard core the past couple of weeks. Something switched back on inside me, and I love playtesting again. Last week I even tested with Chris Pikula (who also wants to come back and win a Hollywood Qualifier) twice! I don’t have anything that I love in any kind of a lasting way. Every deck I make… I am in love with it for at least a night, but move on the next night.

All that said, I have learned quite a bit about how the format is shaping up. There are a couple of big changes from the Pro Tour format that have to be taken into consideration…

1. Gaddock Teeg
This was my big discovery for the Gold deck. Teeg is even better than I initially thought, but also not infallible. I initially considered Lorwyn’s new rock star as a faster pussycat against Dread Return and Enduring Ideal (he’s pretty good). But there’s more!

Heartbeat of Spring – Teeg doesn’t hose the deck outright; that is, it’s possible to still win. However, it is awfully tough to reach any kind of critical mass for this deck. The Mind’s Desire version can’t exactly play Mind’s Desire, but that’s not the real issue. All the goods that make Desire so potent against control, so consistent, cost four. So no Fact or Fiction, no Gifts, no Deep Analysis. You just have a hand full of cards you can’t play while you’re getting clocked by some little 2/2 goober and whoever else might be coming with him.

‘Tron decks – One of the decks I was pretty excited about was U/G Cloudpost with Garruk Wildspeaker. Like the U/W ‘Tron decks from last year, but faster and better. With all the mid-range decks up again this year, Garruk seemed like an awesome addition, unstoppable long game. Even when you win with this deck, and you can win a lot, there is a pretty big hole in the strategy: You have no game against Gaddock Teeg. I don’t think the ‘Tron decks are as bad off as the Dredge decks, but the fact of the matter is, if Teeg sticks, they are going home. You can’t Repeal it. You can’t play any of your good spells – Fact or Fiction, Gifts Ungiven, any of the really expensive and effective stuff – and you don’t really have a good plan against Teeg. Maybe tune for something like Echoing Truth? I’d rather just never be in the fight.

Enduring Ideal – Teeg is pretty good against Ideal in that they have to respect the fact that he is in your deck. A few weeks ago Teeg was ironclad. More recently I have been getting multiple copies hit by Thoughtsieze. The real problems long are the fellows who ride up along with Teeg, like Kami of Ancient Law. Look for Ideal decks to play Fire / Ice main to deal with the single biggest delta since the Pro Tour.

Dread Return – You’ve just got to be quick about it. Teeg keeps these decks honest but if you figure that they can handle a Leyline of the Void, they have to be able to beat a Grizzly Bears. Chain of Vapor only needs to have him offline for a turn; don’t be surprised by Darkblast, Dredge Darkblast, Darkblast.

2. Hurkyl’s Recall
This is a new one, or new to me at least. It’s devastating for Affinity. I was testing the other night and he had the good draw. I didn’t do anything for a couple of turns. He played a couple of Thoughtcasts. Okay, seems like a good time to fire one of these off. Pow! Eleven cards in hand and a Glimmervoid in play. Hurkyl’s Recall is like a one-sided Akroma’s Vengeance for two, at instant speed. It’s absolutely insane; you can’t know to what degree without actually playing it yourself, I think.

The thing about Hurky’s Recall is that it fills a very specific niche – Affinity annihilation – that is different from pre-existing spells like Ancient Grudge. Ancient Grudge is a NO Stick killer that happens to be great against the onetime best aggressive deck of all time. I think that it is better than Kataki because it doesn’t really matter when you draw it, it’s always good (Kataki you need to get him pretty early, though yes, the War’s Wage can be pretty devastating.

I had Affinity as a short list to-play deck going into Valencia… I’d be frightened about playing it just now. Every color combination has an insane two-mana spell that blows up all your lands and creatures, both.

3. Ancient Grudge
Ancient Grudge was by far the best card of last year’s Extended PTQ season. It was a big problem for ‘Tron decks as well as soundly burying Affinity and NO Stick. B/U decks were splashing it, it was so good. There are some corner Artifact decks that might be viable in the format (Spire Golem, et al)… I think that if you are going to try one of those decks, you play it early. Right now the RDW decks are playing like three Ancient Grudges in the sideboard. If you look at the Valencia decks… Well, they didn’t play four copies in the sideboard. Many played Krosan Grip for Counterbalance or teamed Split Second up with Engineered Explosives. Mark my words: Ancient Grudge will be an automatic four-of in numerous decks once again by the end of the season. If you’re caught out of position on this one, you might not be able to win a match, let alone the PTQ.

4. Counterbalance / Top
Asher asked me this week why people play this. It never seems to win. I told him that we take it for granted because we play fives and sixes, but most people just lose to this combo: In fact, I am pretty sure it is expressly the strongest strategy in Extended.

Engineered Explosives – I think this is the strongest response card for Counterbalance. They don’t have a ton of real counters, and this card is so flexible in other spots, killing tokens, warding off Dredge etc, that its inclusion – even to the tune of a four-of – tends to be pretty painless.

Krosan Grip – The classic, really… The better Counterbalance players are already leaving a three on top to beat Split Second… This card remains a good solution regardless.

Weird mana – Passive attack on Counterbalance is effective in that most of these decks rely heavily on Counterbalance itself to hold down the defensive end. That said, they usually have some Counterspells, so you can’t assume victory just because there are fives and sevens in your deck.

5. Destructive Flow
This one seems to have fallen far out of favor. Here’s a hint: No one can beat this card right now. It’s just a question of having a deck that can play it. The problem with last year’s deck was that if you didn’t completely obliterate the opponent with Destructive Flow you were just a less consistent Aggro Rock (not where you wanted to be). Think of all the top decks… Fortier.dec, Enduring Ideal from the PT finals, Affinity, even my Gold deck… Destructive Flow is a complete windmill slam.

Stuart Wright 6-0 deck from last year’s World Championships is a lot different from anything you’ve probably considered. Shadow Guildmage is a bit of a problem for a lot of strategies… criminally underplayed in every relevant format.

The only potential issue for Destructive Flow (that wasn’t present last year) is that people will be gunning for Enduring Ideal with Kami of Ancient Law and Ronom Unicorn… Both are faster than Destructive Flow and are pretty headache-free anti-fancypants options.

6. Enduring Ideal / Dovescape
Speaking of which…

Venser / Riptide Laboratory – Basically the lock. I think Riptide will become a stock addition to Spire, Fortier.dec, and anything else that can play a Venser or Meloku.

Indrik Stomphowler – My favorite card from Ravnica Block Constructed last year’s Extended is a fine fighter of Ideal Enchantments, even under Dovescape.

Trygon Predator – What a beating this card is. Smashes numerous decks. Even more criminally underplayed than Shadow Guildmage.

7. The Boogeyman
How many PTQs will Dredge win? I say zero. Josh says ten (!!!). What will the sideboards of the early PTQs look like? Josh’s theory is that some kind of good deck will win early, a deck that Dredge is good against, and that is how Dredge will pick up something like three of its slots (the next week, via good positioning). Dredge is the scariest deck to never win, and should remain so. That said, the presence of Teeg makes this deck an even worse choice than previous formats.

I am playing a lot of Sakura-Tribe Elder decks into Ravenous Baloth (over Loxodon Hierarch) just for the lift against Dredge. Heck, I’ve even been Evoking Mulldrifter in the Tournament Practice Room.

No big movement here. I still don’t think it’s good.

8. Umezawa’s Jitte
How important will the Jitte fight be? My idea right now is to just not play any kind of a deck that can lose a Jitte fight. There are so many variables in Extended, this is one where you can recover a lot of lost sleep. Trinket Mage decks can find a Pithing Needle… Then again, those decks have been set in recent years to loving a Jitte. Gruul/Zoo decks may want to bring in their Ancient Grudges, Tin Street Hooligans, etc. After all, the Jitte fight is probably everything.

In order to win a PTQ, I’d guess that you will have to deal with six of the above problems, minimum. Even with a powerful deck, if you get the wrong draw – a draw as simple as keeping a two-land hand, but where both lands are Seat of the Synod in a U/W Control deck like NO Stick – you can just get blown out. A lot of readers find my deck decisions odd. However, look at the common, powerful, problems that you can end up fighting in an Extended PTQ. What if you just don’t play any cards that are spoiled by Gaddock Teeg? If you’re not Affinity, it probably doesn’t matter that your opponent has this techy new Hurkyl’s Recall sideboard. Ancient Grudge is similarly less devastating. Everyone is at least a little bit subject to Counterbalance / Top, but you can resist that deck a great deal by varying your mana costs… Pair the attitude with a lot of basics, and suddenly you are the only guy in the room not packing to Destructive Flow. Do you see where this is going?

Extended is a huge marketplace for decks, a place where ideas new and old will battle it out. There are ancient linear mechanics to Lego together, and new opportunities with more recent sets to create hybrids and hew families. The possibilities are so diverse that you can do basically whatever you want and still retain a lot of card quality. So why should you be worrying about commonly played two mana hosers if you can avoid it?



P.S. Some kind of tap-out Blue, likely.