Gifts Rock in Extended

It’s a strange time for Magic writers. Topics and ideas are thin on the ground. Coldsnap Limited? It’s been said already. Ravnica Block? Been there, done that. Standard? We’re waiting for Time Spiral. And Time Spiral itself? Not enough to write about. So, what is a writer to do… Luis steps into the breach with a fine piece on Gifts Rock in Extended. Matchups, decklists, strategies… it’s all here. Looking for a break from the norm? Look no further!

Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of Extended on Magic Online. Although this is not a "relevant" format in terms of PTQs or high-level events until Worlds, it is one of the more entertaining formats available. If you are bored with Standard but still want to play Constructed, Extended is a good choice. Additionally, it is one of the best ways to spend time on MTGO. Most Premier Events are only five or six rounds, and those rounds end quite rapidly. Even for those who do not use MTGO, Extended will be a valid and entertaining format at some point in the season. It is never bad to be ahead of the curve, and just because PTQs aren’t Extended doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself.

I have spent a lot of time on this decklist, and all the changes I have made are a result of a goodly amount of testing in Premier Events and 8-mans online. As an observant reader can tell, I started with Dave Shiels’ list from Grand Prix: Charlotte. The most significant change is the addition of four maindeck Leyline of the Void. With Leyline being strong against enough of the best decks in the format, I felt it warranted maindeck inclusion.

Instead of a card-by-card analysis, I’ll give a basic overview of how the deck works. Almost all wins should center around one card: Gifts Ungiven. Your whole gameplan should be to make your opponent unable to win by stripping all of their threats, and then use Genesis to recover either Loxodon Hierarch or Eternal Witness. I consider the Rock to be control against all other decks, even dedicated control decks like Psychatog or Scepter-Chant. The important thing to do in any matchup is to identify their threats and eliminate them. Versus Boros, their threat is reducing your life total to zero with burn and dudes, so all you need to do is play as many Hierarchs as possible. As a contrast, to beat Psychatog you need to neutralize their meager three threats: Psychatog, Meloku, and Stalking Stones. Some games will be won using a few quick Hierarchs, but in general your focus should be on resolving Gifts Ungiven. Note that the first Gifts rarely gets Genesis, as once their initial batch of threats is dealt with you usually have time to find Genesis and seal the deal.

As I go through the individual matchups I will provide the common Gifts piles and guidelines for what to name with Cabal Therapy. Bear in mind that these are merely general guidelines, and both Gifts and Therapy are extremely subject to the current game-state.

Individual Matchups:

The Boros matchup is quite straightforward: keep casting Hierarch. Opening hands ideally have Sakura-Tribe Elder, as that is the most important card to have early game. Birds of Paradise are good, but almost always die, so a turn 2 Elder is crucial in setting up a Hierarch before they can Molten Rain you. Land destruction is the only way they can keep you from playing elephants, and is typically the cause of most of your losses, as you generally win if you can reach four mana quickly.

Sideboarding: -4 Leyline of the Void, -1 Cabal Therapy, +2 Carven Caryatid, + 2 Duress, +1 Smother.

Despite costing five, Plow Under is actually quite good versus Boros, as most games they win involve topdecking burn. Plow prevents that, and once the board is stabilized usually makes it impossible for them to win. Just be sure to Plow non-Mountains if possible, so they can’t flash Lava Dart without reducing their effectiveness.

Gifts Pile: The typical Gifts versus Boros is Hierarch, Baloth, Witness, Living Wish. This essentially gives you four Hierarchs, although if you are short on mana (or they have too many guys) replace the Witness with Pernicious Deed or Putrefy.

Cabal Therapy: On turn 1, Cabal Therapy should usually name Goblin Legionnaire, their best two-drop. If you have a Rot Farm, then Molten Rain is a decent call, although Pillage is equally bad in that situation. Later in the game, Char and Lightning Helix are standard calls.

While having Leyline in your opener is quite good against Tog, I would not mulligan a good seven-card hand to find it. Even without Leyline, you have quite a good game against it. Key cards in this matchup are Cabal Therapy, Gifts, Deed, and Witness. Getting out a quick Deed is very good, as it allows you to disregard the threat of Psychatog for the most part, with the added benefit of catching Meloku as well. In game 1, most Tog decks cannot remove Genesis from the bin, so the most common Gifts pile is: Therapy, Witness, Genesis, plus whatever card best fits the situation. Examples include: Deed, if you don’t have one; Putrefy, for a faster kill; or Living Wish. Once you can start Genesis recursion, it becomes very difficult for them to win, granted you have sufficient mana. On that note, Rot Farm shines in this matchup, and don’t be afraid to Wish for it early game.

Sideboarding: -1 Birds of Paradise, -1 Ravenous Baloth, -1 Plow Under, -2 Loxodon Hierarch, +2 Duress, +1 Cranial Extraction, +1 Smother, +1 Haunting Echoes.

After boarding, your game plan is to resolve Cranial Extraction twice; first on Psychatog, then on Meloku. Once they are reduced to winning with Stalking Stones and Wonder, it should not be hard to win. If they board in Leylines, add the Naturalize instead of the Smother. One thing to be wary of after board is that they might have graveyard hate, so Genesis isn’t as good as previously.

Gifts Pile: As stated before, Therapy, Witness, Genesis and a situational card is likely the best bet against Tog. After sideboarding, Cranial Extraction is almost always included.

Cabal Therapy: In this matchup, what you Therapy often depends on the amount of mana they have available. Cutting off their draw spells is crucial, so the most common cards to name are Thirst for Knowledge and Fact or Fiction. Therefore, naming Thirst when they have three lands up and Fact when they have four lands up is usually the best plan.

The Scepter-Chant matchup is much like the Psychatog matchup in terms of how it plays out. Leylines are entirely dead, so disregard their presence completely. With a similar card draw suite, the main differences are the presence of Isochron Scepter and the less threatening kill of Exalted Angel or Decree of Justice. The main difficulty in this matchup is your vulnerability to Scepter plus Orim’s Chant. Of course most decks play just three Cunning Wish to get Chant, which gives you a window of time to Therapy their hand or get a Deed into play. Once you have a Deed in play you have a huge edge, as it requires them to have Wish for Disenchant and then Wish for Chant, and Scepter to lock you. Again, they must be the aggressor because you win the long game. Most of my losses to Chant come from a quick Angel or quick Scepter, as once you start Gifting and using Genesis they lose quite rapidly.

Sideboarding: +2 Duress, +1 Cranial Extraction, +1 Naturalize, +1 Haunting Echoes, +1 Smother, -4 Leyline of the Void, -1 Ravenous Baloth, -1 Birds of Paradise.

All the standard disruption comes in, and Smother as well. It may look odd to bring in Smother, but the majority of Scepter-Chant decks board in three or four Meddling Mages, and Smother grants an additional out.

Gifts Piles: Therapy, Deed, Witness, Putrefy.

Cabal Therapy: Unless you have an answer in hand, always name Isochron Scepter early game. Later your list of targets expands to Thirst, Fact or Fiction, or Cunning Wish, depending on which seems most likely.

Tooth and Nail
I dislike this matchup greatly, although it is by no means unwinnable. Leylines are almost worthless, so don’t count them when evaluating your hand. Game 1 you only have three cards that matter: Plow Under, Vindicate, and Cabal Therapy, with Gifts to get them. If your opening hand does not have Birds or Elder, it needs both Therapy and one of Vindicate, Gifts, or Plow to be keepable. Your path to victory is to keep them off Tron, and once you Plow Under them it becomes easy to find Witnesses and Wish to continue Plowing.

Sideboarding: -4 Leyline of the Void, – 2 Pernicious Deed, +1 Naturalize, +1 Global Ruin, +2 Duress, +1 Kataki, War’s Wage, +1 Cranial Extraction

After board the matchup gets much better, as Global Ruin is basically an instant win. Beware of them siding in Plow Unders, but other than that the games play out similarly to pre-board.

Gifts Pile: Your Gifts is usually going to be for Therapy, Vindicate, Plow, Witness, although if you have stripped their hand, Living Wish (for Witness) can replace Therapy. After board, certainly include Global Ruin instead of Vindicate.

Cabal Therapy: If you Therapy turn 1 on the play, always name Sensei’s Divining Top, as it stops further Therapies from being overly effective. Otherwise, name Sylvan Scrying if they have not had an opportunity to cast it. Past turn 2, name Reap and Sow if they haven’t hit four mana, and then always name Tooth and Nail.

Although there are less Ichorids running around than previously, 1 or 2 join most tourneys. Mull any hand without Leyline, no exceptions, unless your 5-card hand is exceptional. Once you Leyline, they basically only win with Zombie Infestation.

Sideboarding: +1 Cranial Extraction, +1 Haunting Echoes, +1 Smother, +1 Naturalize, +1 Loxodon Hierarch, -4 Cabal Therapy, -1 Plow Under

Cranial should almost always name Ichorid, although Tog at times is more threatening. Standard rules for mulliganing to Leyline are the same post-board, even though they may have answers such as Chain of Vapor or Ray of Revelation.

Gifts Pile: Living Wish (for Withered Wretch), Eternal Witness, Leyline, Deed.

Cabal Therapy: Turn 1, Therapy Putrid Imp. Turn 2, Therapy Zombie Infestation. Turn 3, Therapy Psychatog.

The presence of a singleton Kataki in the sideboard makes this matchup fairly easy, although many Affinity builds run Fire/Ice. As with many matchups, having acceleration in the opening hand is crucial. The other two important cards are Living Wish and Pernicious Deed. Both these cards single-handedly destroy Affinity, especially with Vindicate, Putrefy, and Hierarchs to assist. Treat the Leylines as mostly dead, but do be aware that no modular will occur with a Leyline out. That has surprised more than one of my Affinity opponents before. In one instance, I had an opponent all-in on Ravager and sacrifice it to kill me with Nexus, only to see his board disappear for nothing.

Sideboarding: -4 Leyline of the Void, -1 Deep Analysis, -1 Plow Under, +1 Global Ruin, +1 Loxodon Hierarch, + 1 Naturalize, +1 Smother, +2 Carven Caryatid.

Gifts Pile: Witness, Living Wish, Deed, Putrefy is standard, but be aware that Plow Under neatly removes modular counters from Blinkmoth Nexus.

Cabal Therapy: Their main threats to name with Therapy are Ravager and Cranial Plating, although if you have a Deed then naming Myr Enforcer is a good call.

Aggro CAL
This being a new deck, a decklist is needed for those not familiar with the MTGO scene:

Wish Sideboard: Shattering Spree, Life from the Loam, Thoughts of Ruin, Nostalgic Dreams, Morningtide, Hull Breach, Pyroclasm.

Aggro CAL (also called Loam-Assault or Terravore) was, to the best of my knowledge, developed by MTGO user iori. He quickly got his Constructed rating to 1930 or so, which is extremely difficult on MTGO. As the name implies, the deck shares many characteristics with the old CAL list used at the Japanese Grand Prix. Aggro CAL basically takes out all the control elements and replaces them with efficient creatures, burn, and Thoughts of Ruin.

The beauty of the deck is that it attacks from many different angles, all of which are very hard to stop. If graveyard hate isn’t used, the Loam is an uncounterable draw engine that will usually culminate in a Seismic Assault for twenty (or more). However, Loam is just one of the problems. The deck is quite capable of playing like R/G beats and curving out with Mongrels, Terravores, and burn. To further compound the problem, Thoughts of Ruin punishes any deck that falls behind, as well as being absurd with Terravore. To cap it all off, Burning Wish gives the deck access to seven Loams, seven Thoughts of Ruin, or even spot removal when needed. So why shouldn’t you just play this deck? The short answer is: you should. I can safely say that Aggro CAL is the best deck in Extended right now, staying above most other decks by a significant margin. I don’t play the deck for a few reasons: I don’t relish the thought of playing the mirror often. Even though there aren’t an immense amount of Aggro CAL present (usually 2-5 decks or so, out of the 30-40 people that show up for the average PE), if you want to win the event you are almost guaranteed to play Aggro CAL at some point. I also choose not to play the deck because I dislike jumping on the bandwagon, and I think the deck is beatable with some effort.

I consider Aggro CAL to be the Rock’s worst matchup, but it is by no means unwinnable. They have essentially two main threats: Thoughts of Ruin and Life from the Loam. Thoughts cripples your ability to do anything relevant, and Loam left unchecked draws them too many threats. How they actually kill you is some combination of Mongrel, Werebear, Terravore, and Seismic Assault, but once Loam is dealt with these threats are easily handled. Much like the Ichorid matchup, Leyline is a must. Mulligan any seven-card hand without it, and only the best of six-card hands should be kept. Example, at six cards I would keep Forest, Heath, Birds, Gifts, Elder, Therapy. Once Loam is cut off, treat this matchup much like Boros, as they are reduced to small guys and burn.

Sideboarding: +1 Haunting Echoes, +1 Smother, +1 Naturalize, +1 Cranial Extraction, +2 Carven Caryatid, -1 Deep Analysis, -1 Plow Under, -1 Cabal Therapy, -1 Gifts Ungiven, -1 Sensei’s Divining Top

Gifts Pile: It is very difficult to give a general Gifts pile for this matchup. If you are getting beaten down, something like Hierarch, Witness, Baloth, Deed is a good Gifts. To stop Loam, grab Witness, Living Wish, Deed, and Leyline.

Cabal Therapy: Burning Wish, Thoughts of Ruin, Seismic Assault

Mirror Match
Online, the mirror is a rarity, but it occasionally does occur. The mirror revolves around the Living Wish plus Genesis chain, both establishing yours and breaking theirs. Once one player is recurring Witnesses or Hierarchs with Genesis, the game is usually over. Leyline is very important, but good starting hands without Leyline can be kept. The key disruption cards are Living Wish for Withered Wretch, Leyline, and Cabal Therapy. Some games will be won off Hierarch beatdown, but if both players know what they are doing it rarely comes to that.

Sideboarding: +1 Haunting Echoes, +2 Duress, +1 Cranial Extraction, +2 Carven Caryatid, -1 Pernicious Deed, -1 Putrefy, -1 Ravenous Baloth, -1 Birds of Paradise, -2 Loxodon Hierarch.

I usually cut Hierarchs for Caryatids, and add more disruption spells. The Birds goes in order to minimize your vulnerability to Deed, and the removal goes because it is irrelevant to your long-term plans. I would generally name Living Wish with Cranial, but Gifts is not a bad name if they have yet to cast one. Obviously Leyline and Echoes have negative synergy, but if either is working you basically win.

Gifts Pile: This matchup more than any does not lend itself to standard Gifts piles, but something like Wish, Witness, Plow, Deep Analysis goes a long way towards winning the war of attrition. After boarding, tossing in a Cranial or Haunting Echoes can be vital in depleting the threats they have left. Games in the mirror often go long, and it is not uncommon for both players to have fifteen cards or less in their libraries.

Cabal Therapy: As per the norm, try and name the card that would be the most detrimental towards your gameplan. Gifts should be easy to name if they have left four mana up and have several cards in hand. Otherwise, Living Wish and Eternal Witness are the most common calls with Therapy.

Some more notes about the deck:

As with any deck packing Gifts, this deck has many options available each turn. There are a number of common plays that you should be aware of.

1) Gifting for less than four cards. When you absolutely must Therapy and have only four mana, you can Gifts for one or two cards and your opponent must bin them. I have gone for Therapy plus Genesis, or Deep Analysis plus Genesis, a number of times, as it is the fastest way of guaranteeing Genesis gets to the graveyard.

2) On MTGO, Living Wish (or any Wish) shuffles your library. Inexplicably, this bug continues, despite Wizard’s knowledge of it. Just be aware if you have Top out and cast Living wish, the top three are going to be new ones.

3) Be aware of color requirements when cracking fetchlands. GGBWU is the bare minimum to play all the spells, and multiple Black sources are very helpful. Against aggressive decks like Boros, generally you should grab a basic land, but in control matchups where the life loss is less relevant, selecting a dual is usually better.

4) You can target yourself with Cabal Therapy, which on occasion you will do. The purpose, of course, is to get rid of the Genesis in your hand, and move it to the graveyard where it becomes useful without having to spend five mana casting the stupid cow. Alternatively, cast Genesis and sacrifice it to Therapy the opponent, a classic play for those who have played earlier versions of the Rock.

Much like most control decks, the more practice you get the better Gifts Rock will perform. This deck has an incredible amount of tutoring power, and has the capability to answer every threat present in Extended. However, it requires precise play to have an edge over the opposition. I did not list any matchup percentages or anything like that, but if you play optimally I think the only matchup that you have a less than even shot is the Aggro CAL matchup.

Bonus Section: Here is a list I have been trying, but I am unsure whether it is better or worse than the standard Gifts list:

Despite the awesome efficiency of Burning Wish for Living Wish, I cannot recommend this list over the four-color version. It is fun, and still appears to perform adequately, but not enough testing has been done with it.

If you are considering getting into MTGO, I would recommend Extended as a good place to start. Unlike Standard, the cards don’t rotate very often, and once you sink the initial investment your rate of return is much higher than most formats online.

If anyone has comments or questions, just ask here in the forums, or message me online.

LSV (among others) on MTGO