Flores Friday – The Penalty of Failure, an Article About Extended

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It’s nearly the weekend, folks, and that means one thing… Extended PTQs! Mike weighs in with advice, featuring The Most Important Question You Will Have to Answer Tomorrow, Why Linear Sucks, Four-and-Two-Halves Rounds with the Prodigy, Two Ways to Get Free Wins, and More! Happy New Year!

This article is about Extended.

The Most Important Question You Will Have to Answer Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the first second Extended PTQ for Hollywood in New York. The first time around there was a PTQ at Worlds and I went 0-2, tanking a bye for Grand Prix: Philadelphia. I plan to improve on that performance tomorrow (shouldn’t be too hard) and walk away from the season with a Blue Envelope. So what is the most important question I – and presumably you – will have to answer tomorrow?

How will I deal with Dredge?

This is a rough question. What is the root of this question? Will people play Dredge? Should I consider playing Dredge? Is my deck of choice horrendous against Dredge? If so, why? What resistance can or will I have against Dredge? Do I really want to beat Dredge? If I do, how much space can I afford to spend sideboarding against Dredge? WOW! That’s not one question at all! Let’s break it down…

Dredge is for sure the fastest and most powerful combo deck in the current Extended. The common lists will win on turn 4 if left unmolested, and can win faster than that. Because of that, people who are not Dredge – and many who are – are not going to sit around letting Dredge win on turn 4 unmolested. That is the problem with Dredge. Dredge is in a unique position in Extended, even more unique than just being the fastest and most powerful combo deck in the format: It is the most hated deck as well, hated in both senses of the word.

No one likes to lose to Dredge. They get angry when they lose to Dredge, and complain about being lucksacked on the second turn when they lose; in truth, that is pretty much how a viable deck loses to Dredge: They lose to Dredge’s best, fastest, draws; or Dredge can get lucky. Just the other day, I was unfortunately on the draw with a R/G beatdown deck. I foolishly led with Kird Ape rather than Mogg Fanatic. He gave my 2/3 -1/-1 on end step, went for the modest Darkblast replacement effect, and immediately won. What!?!

That’s right.

No, no. I wouldn’t have won if I had played the Mogg Fanatic first. Weren’t you paying attention? He played Darkblast. And no, the Darkblast probably wasn’t the highest percentage weapon to generate an insurmountable advantage on the second turn (he didn’t actually kill me… I conceded on my own second turn when it was obvious I couldn’t beat his sheer number of tokens on a triple Bridge from Below). Dredge may be playing Darkblast maindeck.

Dredge is a wicked victim of persecution in Extended. Beatdown players have Jailers. Every deck that can produce Red mana has Mogg Fanatic. Mogg Fanatic might not be a win in and of itself, all by its lonesome, but it seems to me that the card matters quite a bit, and can work in the context of a solid beatdown draw to suppress Dredge’s ability to find the win under pressure. That said, don’t foolishly believe that there aren’t alternate paths to winning. I’ve felt cool and clear about a duel more than once and found myself actually under serious Ichorid pressure (old school!), and sometimes the opponent will have a main deck Akroma, Angel of Wrath or similar non-combo reliant Dread Return target.

In this writer’s humble opinion, pretty much anyone can beat Dredge in the first if Dredge is sloppy, but few will win Game 1 on the merits. Every time I recount a nailbiting Game 1 win, Steve Sadin (who is disproportionately respectful of Dredge as he loses to it exactly on turn 2 every time it mises him), just says the opponents are playing badly… And he’s probably right. Even Trinket Mage decks, other Dredge decks with main deck Leyline of the Void, or those that can get there faster while disrupting the Bridges with Fanatics, Arcbound Ravagers, and the like are not automatic favorites. Part of the problem is that overconfident players assume they should beat Dredge because it is “awful” and they don’t play tightly enough even in the games they are supposed to win. For instance, I was deucing four Bridges in combat the other day, getting ready to let out a whew and get comfortable in my chair, when my opponent ran the Darkblast on his remaining Narcomoeba with several triggers on the stack. It was a simple play, but I didn’t see it until it occurred, and I could have lost because of that (I didn’t, luckily… but I was lucky to have a follow up play).

So why is Dredge a poor choice to play?

Everyone hates Dredge. At Regionals 2007, the most common sideboard card was Tormod’s Crypt… followed by Leyline of the Void and Extirpate! In Extended, literally every deck can pack at least a four spot of cards that cost between zero and two mana that annihilate the Dredge core strategy, in many cases elegant response cards that can also ruin side plans.

If you are going to play Dredge in a tournament, I think that you have to be able to beat, say, a Leyline of the Void or a Tormod’s Crypt, maybe even two. The problem is beating 14 of them. At some point you are just tearing your hair out. Sure, you have the fastest and most powerful combo deck in the format at your command… But what happens when the response cards are even faster and more powerful?

Here are some closing thoughts about Dredge…

Main Deck:
Pikula thinks that Rock variants are going to be the most common opponents at the upcoming PTQ and that you have to be able to beat vanilla Rock to win. I have been testing exactly Barra Rock as one of our control (as in not experimental, not Weissman) decks, and it has been really great, winning the vast majority of matches. Even if The Rock doesn’t play main deck Collective Restraint like one of the Valencia Top 8 decks, you can bet you will be up against Sakura-Tribe Elder, Cabal Therapy, possibly Ravenous Baloth, and likely Pernicious Deed. Now of these, even Pernicious Deed is not a complete swatting of Dredge (but it’s pretty bad, allowing the deck to both kill all the tokens and deuce the Bridges given sufficient time… sufficient being only a couple of turns), but it’s just annoying to have to fight through so many zero mana sacrifice effects, all exerting pressure on the Bridges. Unlike a lot of other decks, The Rock can deal with a solo fatty via Putrefy or Chainer’s Edict, so that side plan might not be the reliable one.

The Rock isn’t the be all and end all of Dredge’s problems; Trinket Mage decks have main deck Engineered Explosives and Tormod’s Crypt (often paired with Academy Ruins and Riptide Laboratory), and you do still have to worry about the Mogg Fanatics, round after round. Gaddock Teeg stops the end of the line, even if it doesn’t address just the tokens… But if you take out the final punch to the deck, is it still the fastest and most powerful strategy?

These decks have to devote little if any customization to take a disproportionate amount of wind out of the opponent’s sails.

I think it is a fine decision to ignore Dredge. I think Dredge is a poor Swiss deck but a potentially lethal Top 8 deck (assuming that a disproportionate amount of decks that ignored Dredge will make Top 8 on the basis that they bested opponents who spend a huge amount of opportunity to defending against Dredge), given that a large number of players will simply run an eight pack in the sideboard against Dredge; basically the bet is that if you don’t play against Dredge in the first three rounds, you aren’t going to.

Here’s the thing: Somebody has to deal with Dredge, otherwise Dredge will win. I think that if you are not Dredge, and you are a main deck dog to Dredge, and you want to beat Dredge, the correct number of cards to devote to Dredge in your sideboard is eight. You need to have sufficient expectation to draw your anti- cards in your opening hand, otherwise you are going to lose. Failure to get a good opening hand here is going to be game… So you have to increase your chances of winning with just your opening hand due to the speed of the opposing deck. Yeah, it sucks; it’s largely draw dependence, and the majority of the skill you are exercising over your opponent is in preparation rather than execution.

What are the options?

1. Extirpate
As an anti-Dredge card I think this is the very best one. The reason is that most Dredge players are prepared to find a solution to Tormod’s Crypt or Leyline of the Void (often more than one simultaneously), but they can’t do that to Extirpate. That is the reason Andre Coimbra and company ran this card in their JustUs Goyfs deck rather than one of the more commonly played cards. In addition, Extirpate is a wild answer to Insidious Dreams and a variety of corner case strategies.

2. Engineered Explosives
In my experience this one is simply the best option, for a variety of reasons. While it does not completely eradicate Dredge the way some of the other options do, Engineered Explosives is a fine option against just the tokens while doubling as a potential weapon against Counterbalance. I have recently swapped a lot of my more specific anti-Dredge cards in a variety of sideboards to Engineered Explosives not just due to the versatility against other powerful strategies, but because of its speed: Like Leyline of the Void, EnEx is a zero, and like Tormod’s Crypt, you don’t actually have to have it in your opening hand to make it worthwhile. I usually hold mine until turn two just so I can steal mana potentially (the opponent might not have the opportunity to play a first turn Chain of Vapor, say, to set you up).

3. Tormod’s Crypt
Less devastating than Leyline of the Void, Tormod’s Crypt has a huge advantage: It’s just as fast, but you can still play it reasonably even if it is not in your opening hand. Again, most Dredge players are capable of dealing with this card; on a rare personal note, I have never lost a game to Dredge where I drew a Tormod’s Crypt, or for that matter, a Trinket Mage.

4. Leyline of the Void
Clearly the fastest and most dominatingly powerful option, Leyline of the Void has a huge disadvantage in that you can’t realistically play it if it’s not in your opening hand. On the other hand, Dredge itself may play this card – even main deck – not only to deal with the mirror, but to suppress the effectiveness of Mogg Fanatic, Sakura-Tribe Elder, etc.

5. Ghostly Prison
I don’t see any reason to play this card. I tried it for a while inspired by Collective Restraint (this seemed, in the specific case, to be just a faster Collective Restraint), but I realized after a couple of games that I was assuming I wasn’t going to lose on the third turn whereas a card like Engineered Explosives could buy time in an actual turn 2 kill situation. Ghostly Prison is potentially hard to beat if it resolves, but no harder than a Leyline or Tormod’s Crypt for a Chain of Vapor or similar solution, certainly not inviolate.

Why Linear Sucks

Imagine a tournament where everyone played the exact same boring, not particularly fast, deck. It would be a blah tournament, probably, but my guess would be one with some epic plays, oohs and ahs over Inspiration in the mirror match, I can’t believe you guessed right on the Cabal Therapy, all that… There would still be luck due to manascrew, flood, and so on… But we would be able to pick the favorites to win much more easily than in other tournaments. We would pick the best players, the players who would conserve their removal cards for the specific threats they knew were in the opposing decks, the players who set up the best trades in the early game, who played the right lands, and who kept their composure when they missed a drop. Over time, repeating this tournament over and over, the same, best, players would rise to the top.

The problem in Extended is that with the most focused strategies, the skills that define these best players are largely eroded. What can you do when the opponent can Mind Twist your entire deck for 0-2 mana? His anti- game plan comes online in the first two turns of the game (maybe)… and you just might not be able to win any more. I have seen so many Affinity players sweating out the Ancient Grudges: You can get blown out on multiples in the early game… or they can merely kill your two threats. And Hurkyl’s Recall? It’s an even bigger problem.

The problem with the super fast response cards is that with the complete lack of color discipline in Extended, anyone can have them… And they take a lot of skill out of the game. If you were one of those best players, wouldn’t you want to be able to leverage your skill in a tournament? How desireable is it to get blown out in the first two turns by a card that anyone can play?

It’s interesting to me that certain, shall we say, tenacious parties seem to be advocating Dredge this season. Last year, even given the Tier 2 nature of the format, certain strategies rose to the top at the PTQ level: Loam and U/W ‘Tron decks. These decks have a lot in common… While they have numerous intertwining synergies, they are not linear in the sense of an Affinity or Dredge deck; that is, they are not many many copies of the same kinds of cards, scripted to be played together. In fact, there is a great deal of customization that can be applied to either kind of deck. Both strategies wanted to grow their manabases using traditional means… And both played two mana accelerators of some kind or other. Both decks played for card advantage… But also had the ability to turn the game on a dime and finish within a short window. At the PTQ level decks like these two seem to do much better than the faster and more powerful linear decks not just because they are less hated out… But because they are much more resistant to anti-linear hosers. ‘Tron dislikes an Ancient Grudge, but unlike Affinity, it is not completely destroyed by a single copy, and the deck will many times have non-artifact finishers like Decree of Justice or Exalted Angel to win anyway. Loam might be a graveyard deck… but it is not so single minded as Dredge that it can’t win some other way, or just use its Burning Wishes to dig itself out of a hoser. These decks tended to present more options to their masters, nuanced decisions that were not as clear cut; they offered more room for customization, and could therefore both reward and punish with greater specificity than the bullseyed linears.

Don’t get me wrong, I love an Affinity… I am just too chickenspit to play it, even Week One Two. Steve recently accused me of underestimating Dredge… Nothing could be further from the case. I respect Dredge to the tune of eight sideboard cards in many decks. I just don’t think that I am good enough to beat fourteen Tormod’s Crypts, Extirpates, Leylines, and Jailers even if I win every single Game 1 before I make the break to Top 8.

Four-and-Two-Halves Rounds with the Prodigy

Because people love Fish:

I have been waiting to make a good Extended deck with Profane Command. This seemed like a decent enough hybrid. So Big Trinks gives you a lot of play against a lot of decks; the Mishra pairing is almost natural even though no one else seems to have done it yet. I would guess that the card choices are all pretty obvious; the ones are cards that don’t work in multiples in a controlled sense (the second Explosives is zero); most of the choices are set up to be played one after another (Needle on Cranial Plating, Needle on Arcbound Ravager). I haven’t done anything disgusting with Conjurer’s Bauble yet… But I have also not yet sided it out. Pyrite Spellbomb has been absolutely great; shocking.

The closest thing to “broken” this deck has going for it is Mishra plus Sensei’s Divining Top. If a mid-range deck lets you untap with Mishra, it is probably doomed. Ditto for most beatdown decks… You draw a card for every mana you have available, and this deck usually has a fair amount.

For your enjoyment, four and two-halves matches…

U/G/W Slide

He opened on Lonely Sandbar and Temple Garden; I had no idea what he was doing when he Wished for Blinkmoth Well (an old favorite). Then he went Astral Slide and Wished for Harmonic Sliver.

I am a moron and played Fellwar Stone in the middle of a Divining Top loop with Mishra in play (you have to keep flipping the Tops into each other or you won’t have one), but I got enough value that he couldn’t really keep up. So Big Trinks got Engineered Explosives, which was doom to all threes. I had a backup Mishra and a Top for the next turn; huge margin win.

The second game I got a quick So Big Trinks for Top, he played Gifts for three colors of cycling lands and the Loam. I Topped into a Crypt and used it, getting a little aggro with Trinket san. He went for Harmonic Sliver and Slide again; I had the Explosives ready. Sorry Trinks, it’s all part of the plan. Venser came down to deal with Slide 32, and I played another Trinket Mage, kicking myself for siding out Pyrite Spellbomb. God became very angry at my 2/2s for three and four, but I topdecked a land for a lethal Profane Command while he was tapped; the services of my returning Trinket Mage were not required.



Game 1 I blew up three Fellwar Stones with Engineered Explosives, but I got a fair amount in return. His Elves couldn’t deal with Mishra + Pyrite Spellbomb + Academy Ruins, or multiple Epochrasites.

Game 2 he had only one land but somehow a ton of mana on Elves. Mishra came down unmolested on turn 3 or 4, and it was Explosives and Spellbombs from there.


Beasts Rock

He got the dream draw on the play, Birds into Duress and Therapy for double Pyrite Spellbomb. He played a second Birds and I followed up with Trinket Mage and Explosives for one. He made a pretty bad mistake and didn’t flash the Therapy to get my Mishra or Venser, but I drew no artifacts and he got me with two Baloths and a Living Wish for Flametongue Kavu.

His draw was kind of slow Game 2 with no one- or two-mana plays. I Trinked for Top and he didn’t have the Therapy. He had a Deed but I was winning with just a Trinket Mage and a top; he conceded match when I played Thirst for Knowledge pitching Pithing Needle.

It actually seemed like a rough matchup… Kind of wish I had all four Deep Analysis.


Tooth and Nail

Game 1 I drew literally nothing but mana and an Epochrasite. I Needled Sakura-Tribe Elder and ate two Decrees without really knowing what deck he was.

Game 2 he just played turn 4 Sundering Titan which is of course horrendous for any deck, certainly mine. I played Mishra and Spellbomb… He killed me.


G/R/W Gargadon

I assume he was Balance as he played Top and Boseiju…

He opened on Gargadon and I immediately Needled it. He came out with some 1/2 Tarmogoyfs and I played Mishra, electing not to attack. Then came the double Dimir Signet, double Epochrasite, Thirst for Knowledge turn. His 1/2s came in; I matched with Epochrasite, forcing the Lightning Helix (good thing Mishra didn’t block!); I drew seven with Top, drawing the concession.

The next game he opened on Ancient Grudge… You’ve just got to expect it in this format and play a deck that isn’t completely devastated, I think. I went Trinks into Top. He kind of did nothing until a Bust, but I recovered faster with Top, cracking with a Grey Ogre all the while.


Former Dave Price Fan Club Teammate Tim McKenna

He had a nice opening but I was going to come back, and he ran the “I’ve gotta go.” Definitely would have bashed him.



Game 1 he was bashing me with Worker and Frogmite into Myr Enforcer and Somber Hoverguard. I got lucky and found Mishra, who supplied Spellbombs and Epochrasites to defend. I bought a ton of time this one with a Needle on Cranial Plating; he conceded before drawing Red.

Game 2 a pair of Thoughtseizes, taking Trinks and Mishra, turned a perfect opener into… um… Next game?

Game 3 two Thoughtseizes again, for Needle and Mishra. I got Venser to stay alive, floating a second Venser with Top in anticipation of the inevitable bloodbath. Shaper Savant 32 got the concession against an all-in Atog.

4-1-2 (those draws… You decide!)

I really like this deck. It’s a little slow, but strange and powerful in its own way.

Two Ways to Get Free Wins

Just two things to think about going into tomorrow…

1) Play a deck with Phase III. You’d be surprised how often the opponent doesn’t get there. Suddenly you have a little breathing room, and… Phase III? He might just get overpowered with his pants around his ankles, like my oblivious Mishra deck in the above matchup with Tooth and Nail.

2) Find a way to punish the opponent’s bad or greedy decisions. Tsuyoshi Fujita made Top 8 in Los Angeles with the prototypical Extended Boros Deck Wins playing eight land destruction spells. I once asked him why he did that when most PTQ players who came after moved to more burn spells and so on. “Too many free wins not to.” Again, just a thought, but early season decks tend to be untuned and full of bad mana.