Food for Thought – Creative Semi-Isolation: Five Cards for Extended

I spent this summer without an internet connection, a car, or friends who play Magic. Thankfully I had a copy of Apprentice and the latest Fifth Dawn update, so I spent the better part of my summer trying to break Extended, coming up with five decks that you probably haven’t seen before.

[Editor’s Note: I received this article the day after the Extended bannings, but its usefulness is not significantly decreased by that fact. The decks below are interesting in their own right, with or without Skullclamp (though they are obviously less broken without. Shocking, I know.)]

Spending three months with approximately two hours total of access to the Internet can be very frustrating, especially for someone trying to keep up on Magic theory. Fortunately for me, I had my laptop computer and a copy of Apprentice with Fifth Dawn loaded and ready to go, but my lack of a car in an unfamiliar state meant Block was out of the question. I had a choice: I could try writing the Great American Novel or I could look at Extended and try to create the Next Big Deck from my creative isolation. After four chapters, I booted up Apprentice and began searching for good cards. Several hours’ worth of payphone calls later, I had the input of my friend, roommate, and little-known Magic savant, Aaron Dubin. I also had four very demented decks featuring five cards with high apparent potential for Extended.

Deck 1, card 1: Life with Ancient Den

Originally, this slot was going to go to Reconnaissance, the underappreciated Exodus enchantment. The first deck was going to be a combat-phase-oriented deck with Chieftain en-Dal, Pianna, Nomad Captain, Soltari Champion and other to-be-determined goodies, including card two below. Aaron reminded me of an experimental deck I had used in the last Extended season. It was a version of the Life deck played on January 3rd, without the benefit of the Japanese players who had perfected their Loop Junction variant of the deck. Rather than using Living Wish for extra versatility, it was Mono-White. Please excuse the odd horrible card choice.

Life (Trigger Happy)

4 Daru Spiritualist

4 Task Force

2 Angelic Protector

4 Nomads en-Kor

4 Shaman en-Kor

3 Warrior en-Kor

1 Reconnaissance

4 Worthy Cause

4 Animal Boneyard

4 Enlightened Tutor

2 Test of Endurance

4 Chrome Mox

15 Plains

1 Ancient Den

4 Starlit Sanctum

There are obvious flaws (where is the Serra Avatar, for one?) but it held its own, going 5-2 on the 3rd and giving me a Top 16 finish, plus the pleasant memory of executing the unearthly turn 2 play of gaining seventeen trillion one life. (Turn 1: Plains, Chrome Mox imprinting Test of Endurance, Daru Spiritualist. Turn 2: Nomads en-Kor, Starlit Sanctum, goodbye.) That is not the real point; the Loop Junction version, while perhaps a bit less stable in the land base, is far more practical and cunning than the Mono-White build. The key idea here is the use of Ancient Den with Enlightened Tutor. Including one or two Ancient Dens or other artifact lands in an otherwise standard land mix could smooth out the manabase by acting as a sort of bizarre land tutoring. The idea can also extend to other”cog-based” cards introduced by Fifth Dawn, such as Trinket Mage or Leonin Squire. (Trinket Mage has already proven itself in Team Sealed, where Aaron used it several times to get out of land-based jams.) By extension, while this has doubtless been discovered, the same cards can be used with Chrome Mox or Mox Diamond to act as a similar sort of mana-tutoring (Chrome Mox being the more likely candidate, due to the land-discard requirement of the Diamond.)

Deck 2, card 2: White Weenie Hate featuring Order of the Sacred Torch

Go ahead, click on the hyperlink. Don’t feel ashamed. Hardly anyone knows this out-of-flavor lone paladin was printed in Sixth Edition along with its cousin, Stromgald Cabal. I myself found it quite by accident, but when I did, the wheels started turning. Ask an Extended player,”What are two decks in Extended?” The first two decks the player names are probably going to be Rock and ‘Tog. One is Green/Black, the other, Blue/Black.

Ask an Extended player,”What is a combo deck in Extended?” The first name (and at the very least the second) will be Aluren. Without the Blue-and-Black gating creature Cavern Harpy, the deck simply does not function, and even something as small as countering the Aluren deck’s Maggot Carrier can be the difference between winning and losing. In a Rock-‘Tog environment, Order of the Sacred Torch is nothing less than a slap in the face. It gives out an ultimatum: deal with it or choke. Not so bad for 1WW, is it?

The deck I have chosen is an Anti-Black strategy featuring the Order. It is not meant as an especially serious deck, though it could be a vague basis for a deck in an especially Rock-‘Tog metagame. The name is a throwback to the classic radio and television program”The Lone Ranger,” one of my mother’s favorites.

The Lone Paladin

4 Skullclamp

4 Bonesplitter

4 Auriok Glaivemaster

4 Beloved Chaplain

4 Mystic Familiar

4 White Knight

4 Soltari Monk

4 Mystic Crusader

4 Order of the Sacred Torch

1 Mystic Zealot (Japanese and foil, just because I can)

1 Abolish

22 Plains

It is silly, but a surprising pain in the neck. Just remember: don’t try this at home.

Deck 3, card 3: Black/Green Madness sporting Saproling Cluster

Saproling Cluster did not see very much play. The mutual effect limited its appeal and a deck never really developed to abuse the card. Thanks to a little card from Darksteel, Saproling Cluster is new and abused. You have three guesses and the first two don’t count. Skullclamp, anyone?

Saproling Cluster and Skullclamp read”2, discard a card from your hand: Draw two cards.” Saproling Cluster provides a madness outlet in addition to creating instant blockers. Against Rock, for example, Saproling Cluster can hold off a Troll Ascetic or Ravenous Baloth while throwing down madness or flashback spells. Of course, the Cluster is a two-way street, but the Black/Green Madness deck is far more prepared to take advantage of the Cluster than anything but a fellow madness deck.

The Black/Green Madness deck that follows is still a rough sketch, but it shows quite a bit of promise. The deck also sports Zombie Infestation for self-replacing tokens. More adventuresome spirits may throw in Ashnod’s Altar for some stupid mana tricks (enough for a Fireball to the face in a Black/Red build, if that is your taste.) Credit for this deck goes to Aaron if it is good. If not, blame me.

Black/Green Madness

4 Basking Rootwalla

4 Skullclamp

3 Night’s Whisper

3 Plunge into Darkness

4 Saproling Cluster

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Zombie Infestation

3 Vhati il-Dal

4 Arrogant Wurm

4 Roar of the Wurm

3 City of Brass

10 Forest

4 Llanowar Wastes

6 Swamp

It’s nothing fancy, but it has been solid in testing. The Cluster and Skullclamp combination could doubtless go farther than this if Skullclamp weren’t banned.

Card 4, deck 4: Blue/Green Madness with Manabond

Blue/Green Madness is a respectable deck in Extended with the capacity for explosive starts. Grafting on a junk rare from Exodus with one of the nastiest drawbacks in the history of the game would only make it worse, right? Maybe not. With the same mechanics as Blue/Green Madness, but with a shift in focus, the following deck has slightly greater risk than an average madness deck, but (ironically enough) more stability in the middle to late game, where a Madness deck is more likely to lose.

Manabond Madness

4 Manabond

3 Trade Routes

4 Arrogant Wurm

4 Basking Rootwalla

4 Roar of the Wurm

4 Wild Mongrel

3 Call of the Herd

3 Circular Logic

4 Deep Analysis

2 Obsessive Search

4 Treetop Village

3 Faerie Conclave

2 Blinkmoth Nexus

4 Yavimaya Coast

2 City of Brass

6 Forest

4 Island

Manabond Madness is less likely to be locked out of a color than a standard U/G deck, thanks to its high land count and card filtering. Aggressive mulligans are not all that necessary from testing; the deck plays like a standard madness deck about half the time, possibly a bit slower due to the comes-into-play-tapped lands. From experimentation with standard madness and flashback-based builds, the most frequent problem is simply running out of cards. Deep Analysis is just not enough. The three Trade Routes provide card drawing off excess lands (as well as a way to return those lands to the hand) but also serve a more important function: protection for man-lands. Against a Troll Ascetic or Ravenous Baloth, simply turn a Blinkmoth Nexus or other land into a creature, put damage on the stack, and have the man-land tap to return itself to the hand. This constant-blocker strategy can be frustrating for a creature-based deck to face. The two Obsessive Search cards are there to provide a bit of extra drawing power, though these could be slotted out for Serum Visions, Peek, or some sort of cycling spell such as Mage’s Guile.

Of course, most players would rather be attacking than blocking. The aggressive Manabond-and-man-land start is this build’s greatest asset. Wicked starts that happen far more often than one might think include the turn-2 Treetop Village and Basking Rootwalla attack and the turn 2 Arrogant Wurm and Blinkmoth Nexus attack. Needless to say, those are rarely pleasant for the opponent. Even without the land attack, a Manabond hand with surplus lands and a madness spell paired with flashback or two madness spells often spells disaster for the other side. Not even a standard madness deck can match this sort of start, simply because the Manabond hand provides both immediate access to lands and a first-turn outlet for madness. Of course, flashback spells do not mind the graveyard, either; does a turn 2 6/6 Wurm token sound like fun?

It is important to remember that Manabond’s ability is optional and if it is in the hand, it might not be the best play. A three-land hand with Manabond and a Wild Mongrel might best be played by putting down the Manabond but not using it the first turn, saving the Wild Mongrel in hand for the second turn. Sometimes, Manabond will be a dead card, simply because more important cards are in hand. (Of course, no card is truly dead in a madness deck, since it can be used as Wild Mongrel food.)

The Manabond Madness deck is still in a state of flux. Current ideas include possibly incorporating Crucible of Worlds. A more radically land-based deck might include both and commit the heresy of heresies by cutting out Wild Mongrel. Simply put, the raw potential of Manabond is staggering in a madness deck. Whether or not it can be properly used is another question, but early testing indicates it can.

Card 5, no deck: Lantern of Insight

Why include a card with no deck? I haven’t really found the right deck for this card, but the immediate uses of the Lantern are many. First, it can reveal deck type. While some cards overlap between decks (revealing a Swamp is not very helpful, for example,) revealing a Wall of Blossoms or a Cavern Harpy is pretty definitive. Of course, the Lantern can blow one’s own cover, so it is a two-way street. What is not is the Lantern’s devilish ability to foul up tutors. Vampiric Tutors and the like are perfectly useless while the Lantern is hanging around. What are not useless are Wishes and direct-to-hand tutors such as Plunge into Darkness. Is choking off potential Vampiric Tutors and possibly saving yourself from mana-flood worth spending one mana and a card? It is possible. As said before, the Lantern does not have a really good deck yet, though the potential is there.

What can be learned from this? One, never leave a Magic player without access to the Internet but with a copy of Apprentice. Bad things happen. Two, there is plenty of fertile ground for innovation in Extended, especially in Sixth Edition and the Tempest Block, where cards are least likely to be compared to the latest set for possible interaction. Three, a circle of Magic-playing friends (or even one) is invaluable for a serious tester. Without Aaron’s help, none of these decks ever would have come to light.

Enjoy your games!

John Dale Beety