I wanted to take almost every deck that had was even remotely considered for the new Extended, then place them on the metagame clock and make comments about the decks. I had hoped to do that prior to November and the debut of the new format – but with the new store I own and all that that entails, I didn’t find the time to write that article. I have made the time to write this article, mostly because I believe that I see too many people who fail to categorize decks properly – and thus miss out on how they interact.
First: Theories, at least as far as they pertain to Magic, are just helpful ideas that hopefully give you insight to solving some problem. They aren’t foolproof. Inside of this article I’m going to try and go over some of the pros and cons of the metagame theories that I try and use and show where I find they work and where I find they breakdown.
Metagame Clock Theory was, of course, born out of the older Rock, Paper, Scissors (RPS) ideas associated with Magic. With RPS, one type of deck (like creature-oriented beatdown) was Rock, Combo was Paper, and Control was the Scissors.
What followed is well known: Rock beats Scissors beats Paper beats Rock. Over time, the usefulness of the RPS idea was challenged; it was challenged in part because of the advent of new deck types, like aggro-control, which didn’t particularly fit into the RPS idea – and in part because folks just got wiser and found better ways to map out the ideas. I found one of the best of those ideas to be Metagame Clock.
Clock theory put the different types of decks around a circle and then formatted the circle like a clock. It then stated that a deck’s worst matchup was a deck that was fifteen minutes away from it on the clock:
Beatdown loses to Midgame loses to Combo loses to Control loses to Aggro-Control loses to Beatdown.
One of the things I can do here is to take and look at some of the matchups using Adam Fischer’s data, so that you get a feel for how this works.
The Rock beats Sligh, 63%.
Sligh does not like board-sweeping spells of the type that Pernicious Deed represents. Neither does it like mid-game fat green men like Spiritmonger. Certainly, red can win the matchup by stunting the Rock’s mana production slowing it from its mid game plays and avoiding the Deed, but Ravenous Baloth and Engineered Plague out of the sideboard only exacerbate the matchup.
Aluren beats The Rock, 74%
On or around turn 3 or 4, the Combo deck would”go off” while The Rock player would still be building up their mana and looking for the big reset. Some versions of The Rock fought this idea by loading up on one of combo’s natural enemies: Black discard.
Oath/Draw Go beats Aluren, 50%
Try and cast a combo part. Go on – I dare you! Do you know how many counters I have? Granted, the data from a mere seven matches doesn’t support this here, but generally over the long haul Draw Go does beat Combo. The lone T8 Aluren deck from Houston ran Cabal Therapy to force its combo, and Oath is somewhat of a hybrid”Draw Go” deck with a lot of mid-game tendencies. I’ll get back to this later.
Flying Fish beats Oath.
Ooops. That one little man got in under your counter wall; now what are you going to do? I have a few counters of my own, you know. There was very little aggro-control played at Houston. Last years famous”Miracle Gro” was a trumped-up take on”Frozen Fish” that was played because it had the proper tools and matchup philosophy to take on last seasons metagame swallowing combo deck: Trix.
Sligh beats Flying Fish
You call those flimsy little Merfolk creatures? Mogg Flunkies – now there’s a creature! And for being all wet those little blue guys sure don’t like burn.
And thus, we have a circle of life and death on the Magic battlefields. It’s simplified, and it breaks down at times – but it sure works well most of the time.
A Little History
If we look back at last year’s Extended season, we could note that it underwent a preliminary period where we were generally lead to believe that”Trix was dead.” As things went along this obviously wasn’t the case. Over the course the revamped combo deck, now singularly using blue cards, actually thrived. It may have started slow but again the two-card combo began eating up the field – that is, until Miracle Gro showed up.
Always the strength of Trix was that it was a straight two-card combo. What this meant was that the rest of the deck could be devoted pretty specifically to two tasks: Finding the pieces for its own combo and disruption of its opponent. The deck almost single-handedly choked off Sligh decks, which couldn’t overrun the almost incidental life gain associated with the combo, plus the disruption the deck could pack. Sligh waned even moreso than it did under the assault of the original UB Necro Trix idea.
Whenever you look at the clock, you should note that decks that are straight across the clock should match up fairly evenly; in this case, however the combo of choice had severely trumped the beatdown deck of choice. This, of course, allowed an opening for the neo”frozen fish” Miracle Grow deck, which was a new spin on an old aggro-control deck idea that had already made somewhat of a name for itself prior by succeeding somewhat as a combo deck foil during”combo winter.” When combo begins to sit at the top of the heap, look for Merfolk to enter the environment.
Sligh wasn’t helped by the strong showings made by The Rock – red doesn’t like green fat – or Benzo Reanimator, which poses the same problem: Fatties that shrug off the burn.
Sligh wasn’t done forever, however. As small blue and green guys backed by counters and mana control became the rage, Red once again made the grade with better creatures and burn that again worked as removal. If rooms full of Magic players had been allowed only three decks and had to choose one from a pool of Sligh, Trix, and Miracle Gro, you’d have seen a rotation around the clock from Sligh to Trix to Miracle Gro to Sligh. In real life the thing becomes jumbled and interesting because folks make different metagame choices both good and bad, try new decks, and because some decks don’t always slip easily into a defined category.
Are you Midgame or Control?
Seemingly the biggest breakdown I see when players try to analyze the game is that”control” decks tend to get lumped into one category. They generally fail to understand how decks using Pernicious Deed differ from Draw Go. Actually, that distinction isn’t as terribly hard to make as one trying to distinguish between a blue oriented mid-game deck and a blue-oriented open control deck. The difference is based, by and large, on how the deck behaves against creature decks versus how it behaves against combo decks.
Recently, if you looked at standard Magic of the Invasion-Odyssey era you saw little of what was noted as”combo.” Randy Buehler has of late talked about how R&D viewed the relationship of combo to the game, conceding that they want to allow combo – but they want combo decks to rely not on speed so much as interactive creature oriented disruption with a mid-game payoff. This is why we get decks like the Domain combo”Rice Snack” and the newest mid-game combo deck, Cunning Wake. These decks take time to set up, and need more land and parts than a deck like Trix did. Also, because they cannot outrace beatdown they often have to concede deck space to more than a few mid-game creature control elements – like Pernicious Deed or Wrath of God. These decks do, however, seem to function relatively well enough to pique the pro’s interest in them in what is notably a slower environment.
What results overall is a somewhat deformed game – at least from the perspective of a theory like Metagame Clock. Instead of outracing beatdown, combo now has to control it by employing its own creature control elements – making itself even weaker towards open state counter control and even many mid-game control decks. Combo no longer packs as much raw power by the sheer fact that it winds up with dead creature control cards in many of those matchups.
But the key is still to look at a deck and look at the numbers of dedicated creature control cards to pure counters/disruption to get the placement of the deck.
The Strange Case of Tog
Tog, of course, has been with us a while and transferred itself neatly into the”new” Extended – and so I predict that it will be with us for a long while. It may wax and wane some over time but I believe it will never completely go away. The answer to why that is, should enlighten many to a deeper understanding of the nature of metagaming and what works and why.
To start, U/B is a very malleable color pair. Black has perhaps the best creature removal, along with the general disruption of discard. Blue has the ultimate stopper in Counterspell and it’s variants and has limited ways to deal with enchantments. This just about covers all the bases.
Tog decks have been based around one thing, really: Upheaval. This is a mid game global reset of epic proportions and the deck would almost always prefer to”stall” until it can cast it – and in, fact, early builds of the deck did in fact use a lot of creature oriented”stall” tactics. Aether Burst and Repulse are certainly such measures, and served the deck well in a new environment always notorious as swinging full of creature rush decks. New versions of the UZI deck by top deckbuilders are packing both Innocent Blood and Chainer’s Edict.
Now here’s the trick: These iterations of the deck are so chock-full of creature oriented control spells that it weakens them versus any combo deck and also against any more pure open control deck. In fact, for those who follow the game, the midgame-oriented, anti-creature”Zevatog” build of the deck was found to have an enemy: That enemy deck, CounterTrenches, packed more counters and was able to control the more creature-controllish Tog builds.
Then, with the help of some guys with names like Budde and Kibler, Top morphed into a more pure control deck with more counters and less creature-oriented stall mechanisms. If you have been following the current game at all, you’d have found that Tog was still around, hanging out at the tables of Pro Tour: Houston and doing reasonably well.
Again, I will mention that I believe that this deck is going to be around for a long time, simply because of its ability to morph from mid-game to open control, making it sideboard very well. When the game is skewed to creatures, it can stall and kill. When the game is skewed to combo and control, it can pack more counters and hand disruption. (It’s also rather cost-effective to build.)
The end of this is that when you have a control deck, its placement is based on the relationship of how the deck behaves towards creature-oriented decks (and by inference, combo).
This article was touched off by a friend asking these same sorts of questions about decks and where they fit into such theories. He thought The Rock was an aggro-control deck; I had to go against this notion. Pernicious Deed, while an all around great board sweeper, is really a massive reset card – and thus carries at its heart a mid-game connotation. Sergeant Dan of CCGPrime fame noted that of the top 8 decks of PT: Houston, there were twenty-three Pernicious Deeds! This does not bode well for small men.
Furthermore, Spiritmonger is not a traditional beatdown creature; he’s just terribly hard to deal with in the mid-game. What makes the deck viable is that in between all of these mid-game, creature-oriented plays is that the deck can pack a pretty good range of discard control. But discard is not a mid game play – it’s a straight-up method to battle control. This allows the deck to”fight” with control and combo decks. Take out Duress and Cabal Therapy, and the deck gets much worse against anything packing blue or someone playing Aluren combo. Its strength lies in the fact that it has a few powerhouse cards, like Deed and Monger, that allow it the room to add in a healthy dose of cross-clock disruption.
It sounds good, but….
Even though one may have jumped to the conclusion that the extended metagame is perhaps ripe for an aggro-control deck, the reality may be that that deck doesn’t exist – as the cards that it uses are underpowered. (Or heck, it may exist, but I can’t find the proper build.) Back a Standard season or two ago, I used these very ideas to predict the existence of a deck based on Jokulhaups being at least worth looking at in the environment… And I worked on building that deck for some time with only at best mixed results. It wasn’t until someone else came up with the”Turbo” version, using sac lands to accelerate into an Obliterate, that the deck took off and made a name for itself. Also, that deck had power because, as a mid-game deck using red and black, it had the ability to again pack discard… And it had another source of power in uncounterable Obliterate, which trumped any sort of open-counter control deck based on blue.
Likewise, a simple”Frozen Fish” deck became”Miracle Gro” and finally became”Super Gro” a deck that ultimately had more power across the broader field, even as it sacrificed some of its combo-killing heritage to do so.
Tinker and the Tinker style of decks are interesting in that they seem to be the hardest to place into a metagame – or on the metagame clock. What they are (or what I often describe them as) is a class of progressed beatdown decks; I say this because while they often do a lot of things they usually win by presenting a very large and often hard-to-deal-with threat very early in the game and then beat you with it. Then, they progress to the midgame by doing such and thus trump classic small men beatdown.
The other main thing that a Tinker style of deck usually has is tutoring ability. This is usually a near-necessity because the deck needs to pack in a lot of almost superfluous cards to reach a point where speed and redundancy collide. If you’ve ever played the archetypical Tinker deck, at some point you will have had the”mana” draw, where you draw and pour out artifact mana sources… But don’t get a threat or enough threats to overcome your opponent’s disruption. The current crop of Reanimator decks are also notably”Tinker” in style with many tutor and search cards which lead to cut cost hard to deal with fatties. They also have a total makeup that is low in their numbers of threats, but very high in redundant copies of search and reanimate types of spells.
I’m going to back track a tad and look at a bit of history concerning the blue base”Tinker” deck that I find interesting. Shortly after Maher and Finkel squared off against each other in the World Championship Finals of Aug 2000, both said that they hoped they never had to pick up the Tinker deck again. This stemmed from both players feeling that the deck was easy to”hate”… And there may more than some truth to this idea. Tinker rolled out as an early favorite to own the new Extended, and it was a starting point for many teams as the deck to beat. Of course, Reanimator decks fared better… But I think there are indications that that deck is in the same category as the classic blue Tinker decks, and it comes with similar problems. Kai Budde record with the deck was anything but spectacular, and he mentioned the high amount of”hate” for the deck. And if one remembers back to last year, YMG busted out onto the Extended scene off the bat with”Benzo” – a deck which trailed off quickly thanks to the presence of”hate” cards. I won’t be surprised to see a similar situation this year – for while these decks can be the”hand grenades” of a format, they are also quite vulnerable to spot disruption.
Oath and Cross-Clock Plays
Oath of Druids is a mid-game card… But it allows the blue Draw-Go style decks that it’s packed into to speed them into the mid-game against opposing creatures, where a fat flying blue creature takes over the game. In fact, the card (and the idea) is so powerful that Oath decks could be considered mid-game decks simply because they are often at their best versus beatdown decks.
They are, however, actually more of the draw-go style of deck, which sacrifices some of their countering power to have access to powerful mid-game cards in Oath and Deed. That these cards are almost across the clock from the deck’s home position is noteworthy. Much like The Rock’s use of Duress and Cabal Therapy, the presence of the two enchantments makes the deck stronger around the clock – even as it weakens the deck against certain other decks, like, say, Aluren, where above we noted that the Houston results of that matchup turned out even in limited data.
Suicide Black is another case where cross-clock plays make the deck work. That this deck can pack in Duress and Cabal Therapy – disruption cards, which is the furthest thing from beatdown that you can get – actually make the deck probably the best choice of a”beatdown” deck for the environment. That is not because black is offering the best creatures to beat down with, but that the deck is the one best offering its player a chance to compete around the clock.
One of the things to note is that in a format that has opened quite wide open is that decks that could make cross-clock types of plays did very well. It’s something to look for in new formats where the metagame is less distilled. More single-minded approaches – like Sligh or Stompy – have a harder time winning out when they are likely to face a slew of cross-clock plays that they themselves can’t make up for with sheer power or consistency. With Sligh, I think we all understand that the deck would still be much more of a threat with Fireblast, simply because of that card’s sheer power and the speed and tempo boost it added to the deck.
So there you have it: A somewhat general overview of the metagame ideas that I like to use, and some analysis using them to look at the new extended format. I hope you gain some insight from these ideas.