Extended is in a strange place right now. The results from Grand Prix Atlanta show a format dominated by Faeries and various decks abusing Valakut, the
Molten Pinnacle, with Jund and U/W Control nipping around the edges. Like all formats, though, Extended is shaped by many other decks, and shocks to
the metagame cause many echoes.
Valakut and Faeries are strong against the Cryptic Command control decks. The results from Atlanta will probably push the Cryptic Command decks out of
the picture for a little while. This creates a hole for Red and Naya, decks that are perceived to be strong against Faeries and Valakut, to shine. If
Red and Naya indeed see a resurgence, a few weeks down the line will likely see a rise in control decks again, perhaps alongside combo decks that were
flourishing in a field without many counterspells.
One of the great ironies about many formats is how they’re affected by decks that people aren’t actually playing. When no one is playing, say,
aggressive red decks with lots of Lightning Bolts, the control decks in that format can focus on playing more direct removal and don’t need to be as
worried about stabilizing at a high enough life total to withstand a flurry of burn.
This is why it’s important to have a grasp on not only what the most dominant strategy is for a format in a vacuum, but also what the most dominant
strategy is relative to other strategies. Two years ago, Elves was clearly the most powerful deck in Extended, but Faeries was just as clearly the best
deck in Extended; Faeries was strong against the field as a whole, but trounced Elves in particular. For most of the season, Faeries was so dominant
that combo decks virtually disappeared from the PTQ circuit. Eventually, people began building their Zoo decks to fight Faeries. This, in turn, led to
a window for decks such as Astral Slide, which were weak to combo but strong against Faeries and all of the aggro decks running around. I’m confident
that if the season had lasted much longer, the circle would have completed with Elves and TEPS making a resurgence.
Most formats continue cycling through archetypes with this, never arriving at an equilibrium. This is good; formats that are solved in terms of deck
choice are boring, and a constant metagame cycle ensures that every deck gets a chance to shine eventually. About the only good thing a format at
equilibrium does is provide obvious targets for your brews, but in exchange, you have to deal with formats that are wall-to-wall Faeries and Jund
decks. This is not the Magic experience that most of you want to have.
Right now, the archetypes at the top of Extended make Mythic particularly well positioned. I want to talk about Mythic, go over the matchups, touch on
a few things that Cedric didn’t mention in his article, and generally encourage
people to go out and attack for fourteen.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Chameleon Colossus
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Sovereigns of Lost Alara
- 4 Lotus Cobra
The discerning eye will note two changes from Cedric’s list:
Cedric had a particularly embarrassing game where he kept a Marsh Flats hand and drew the Plains on turn 2. Now, Cedric is a fervent supporter of
Cleveland sports teams, so I understand that he’s used to humiliation and embarrassment, but there’s no need to go out and court humiliation. You still
want the Plains for circumstances when you need to Knight up untapped white mana, but I’ve never needed to Knight up untapped white while
simultaneously growing Knight again. Sometimes you need to Knight up a fetchland to fuel Lotus Cobra, but if you have a Cobra, you’re probably not too
worried about your colors.
I also cut the fourth Sower of Temptation for a single Linvala when Steven Birklid pointed out that against Fauna Shaman decks, we could Sower their
Fauna Shaman on turn 3, then go tutor up Linvala and play it on turn 4. Yeah, you can chain Sowers with Fauna Shaman, but Naya is already trying to set
up Cunning Sparkmage with Basilisk Collar in the midgame against you, and you don’t want to just play directly into their hands.
But those changes are minor.
Mythic is not your traditional aggro-control deck. Rather than playing cheap threats and backing them up with permission in the style of
Counter-Sliver, Mythic uses ramp to play midrange threats faster than other decks and accelerate out the trump Sovereigns of Lost Alara. Mythic has
only limited permission, and the Mana Leaks are typically either a flexible way to spend unused mana or trump specific lines from specific decks (Day
of Judgment, Cruel Ultimatum, Titans, etc.). Spell Pierce is another option, but it’s incredibly relevant that Mana Leak can hit Mistbind Clique, and
with the rise of Oracle of Mul Daya and Primeval Titan, Mana Leak is only going to get better.
Mythic’s strategy is based around the effective use of mana ramping animals. No one is impressed when the earliest pressure you can muster is Kitchen
Finks on turn 3, but if you lead with Noble Hierarch, then play Finks on 2 before attacking for four and playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Chameleon
Colossus, you have a substantial board presence. Further, Lotus Cobra enables playing multiple spells per turn as early as turn 2, and the one-mana
dorks are actually quite valuable in combat.
The inclusion of Birds to Paradise, Lotus Cobra, and Noble Hierarch is therefore automatic. They all add the necessary colors, and they all have some
added value in combat. Moreover, all of the ramps are cards you want in your opening hand, and they are good in multiples, fueling faster Sovereigns or
enabling a double-pump of Colossus faster. The double Cobra draw where you hard-cast Eldrazi Conscription on turn 3 or 4 is also powerful.
Well, okay, what about Llanowar Elves? Elves can brawl, sort of, and it accelerates you just fine. The problem with Llanowar Elves is that Mythic is
usually ramping towards non-green spells. Casting Jace off Llanowar Elves is tough. You don’t need any more help casting Chameleon Colossus. You could
conceivably change the mana base to include more sources of blue and white so that you could put the green mana from Elves to better use…but if you
cut your green sources, it becomes that much harder to play Elves on turn 1, defeating the point entirely.
Picking the creature configuration for Mythic is a little trickier. You want some number of three-drops to abuse draws with Hierarch and Birds, but you
also want four-drops to go with Cobra, not to mention just general curve considerations. Knight of the Reliquary is the obvious three-drop of choice
because Knight can accelerate out Sovereigns and be abusive with Lotus Cobra in addition to being powerful on offense and defense.
Deciding on the second three-drop is harder. Most people automatically leap to Vendilion Clique, but you want to minimize the number of x/1s in your
deck in a format where Bitterblossom is so popular, and Mythic doesn’t benefit much from Clique’s disruption. In exchange for all this, you gain a huge
vulnerability to Volcanic Fallout. Not a good deal.
Dauntless Escort is another option. Escort is exceptionally strong against the Day of Judgment decks that frequently have to rely on multiple sweepers
to beat Mythic. Escort is also excellent for protecting summoning-sick Knights of the Reliquary.
On the other hand, red decks have recently been on the rise. Mythic is quite bad against red decks; you never get to untap with a mana accelerant, and
Red does so much damage in the first three turns that Mythic is nearly dead by the time you get around to deploying your three- and four-drops. Kitchen
Finks is one of the best cards in the format against Red; it usually gains four life while eating a creature and a burn spell and can buy enough time
for Mythic to stabilize against a red onslaught. Right now, with red decks still prevalent, I’d go with Kitchen Finks over Escort, but if the control
decks go back on an upswing, you’ll want to tag Escorts back in.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is the best four-drop for Mythic. Not only does Mythic make better use of Jace’s Unsummon ability than almost any other deck,
but Jace also provides Mythic a steady source of creatures while those same creatures protect Jace.
Okay. Jace is good. You knew that. What about more four-drops?
Well, Faeries is a tricky matchup. They have a lot of removal, and they can easily use Bitterblossom as a Forcefield while they develop their mana.
Chameleon Colossus shrugs off Faeries’ removal and crashes right through Bitterblossom tokens. It can even get through Wall of Tanglecord, although of
course you need to watch out for your Colossus getting bounced by Cryptic Command after you pump. As a bonus, Colossus is a gigantic beating against
Mythic’s mana is constructed to ensure that you can cast Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise on turn 1. That sounds obvious, but most of the Naya
lists running around only have nine or ten sources of green mana on turn 1. The first time you have all Raging Ravines to go with your Hierarchs will
be awkward, to say the least. Instead, Mythic uses Celestial Colonnade as the manland of choice, which doesn’t interfere with playing Hierarchs on turn
One card that we’re not playing in Mythic is Preordain. I’m not entirely sure if it’s a good idea to pick a fight with my copy editor, but Lauren Lee and I got into a discussion about Preordain in Mythic on Facebook, and she
mentioned in the
forums of Cedric’s article
that she’d like to have seen more talk about it.
So. There are many problems associated with playing Preordain in Mythic. First, Mythic doesn’t have all that much spare mana. Ideally you’re playing a
mana dork or a Colonnade on turn 1, then a Cobra, a Mana Leak, or a three-drop on turn 2, and then you’re in the midgame with all of the fours, and at
no point do you have any extra mana with which to cast Preordain.
But you don’t always have a mana dork, you say. Sure. Well, actually, you should probably mulligan hands without a mana dork unless you’re on the play,
and you also have Mana Leak. And you can’t really keep a hand with Preordain expecting to Preordain into Cobra. (If I came out here and told people to
start using Preordain to find Bitterblossom, I’d be flamed off the site.) Moreover, it’s hard for Mythic to cast Preordain on turn 1; you only have
eight lands that cast it on turn 1, and the mana base is constructed with the idea that Misty Rainforest is usually getting a Forest.
So you can’t really keep any opening hands based on the fact that you have Preordain in them. Now, I’ll grant Preordain is better when you mulligan.
You get to smooth out your draw a little, and it’s likely that if you’ve mulliganed, you won’t have a perfect curve, and you’ll be able to find a
window to cast Preordain without screwing with your tempo.
Fine. Now, what are the opportunity costs? What card are you going to cut for Preordain? Certainly none of the mana dorks. Not Mana Leak; you’re going
to want to show one to a Faeries or a control player eventually, and it’s serviceable in every matchup. Jace has to stay, as does the full Sovereigns
package. About the only place where there’s some wiggle room is in the slots devoted to Finks and Chameleon Colossus.
But we’ve already noted that Preordain isn’t going to be good in almost any seven-card hand; it doesn’t enter into any mulligan decisions. So once
you’re on six, is Preordain better than Finks or Colossus? There are some one-land Preordain hands you can keep on the draw, but by and large, all you
want when you mulligan are lands and spells, and Preordain isn’t a particularly impressive spell. Finks and Colossus also have specific applications in
important matchups, so you don’t even want to cut them in the first place.
Mythic can’t cast Thoughtseize until turn 3 or 4, once it has access to a bunch of mana. If you have access to a bunch of mana, why spend it on
Thoughtseize instead of a real spell? You’ve generated all this extra tempo, and now you’re throwing it away. Thoughtseize is good against expensive
cards but so is Mana Leak; the difference is that when you Mana Leak something, you also get your opponent’s entire turn.
For Mythic, Cryptic Command is usually Dismiss or a card you’d use to buy a turn or win a race. Dismiss is not mana efficient in a deck that has
fifteen threats that cost four or more mana, and Sovereigns of Lost Alara wins every race it gets into.
And now, a brief matchup rundown:
In game one against Faeries, you’re trying to grind them down and open up a window where you can hit them with Sovereigns of Lost Alara. This is
difficult, but doable; you need to make sure that you aren’t hit by Mistbind on a crucial turn, and you need to recognize when you’re racing and need
to be wary of Cryptic Command. After sideboarding, you’re in an attrition fight. Cobra is bad against a Bitterblossom draw, and without Cobra it’s
difficult to present Sovereigns in a relevant window. Therefore, you’re taking a more aggressive stance, grinding them down with protection animals and
using your Charms to protect from Mistbind, Cryptic, and Sower.
Jund is a laughably easy matchup. Every creature in Mythic matches up favorably against Jund. All Mythic needs to do is defeat Jund before Fauna Shaman
sets up a huge chain of Demigod of Revenge, which is quite easy; Jund doesn’t have many removal spell that kills Sovereigns, and has a hard time
blocking or killing Chameleon Colossus. If they only have one Demigod, setting up Celestial Colonnade is quite easy. Jund usually has to draw multiple
Bolts plus Fauna Shaman to even be in the game.
There are two kinds of Valakut decks: U/W/G Wargate and R/G with Primeval Titan. Pridemage is still good against the R/G decks. Those decks usually
don’t have to rely on Prismatic Omen, but if you can nail their Khalni Heart Expedition, you’ll be in surprisingly good shape. Obviously, against the
Wargate decks, Pridemage is very strong, though you’ll need to be wary of Cryptic Command and Sun Titan. The matchup is very close and is frequently an
out-and-out race. Explosive Cobra draws are important, as is trying to recognize what their plan is and hitting an important piece with Mana Leak.
Drawing multiple Leaks is very hard for them to fight.
Sideboarding against Naya can be flexible. If they look to be focused more on the higher end of their curve, Mana Leak is better against them, but
you’re mostly focused on stopping Cunning Sparkmage. You’ll never get a Sparkmage with Mana Leak unless your opponent isn’t paying attention or he has
more Sparkmages, so it hits the bench. Once you can contain Sparkmage, they’re just a worse midrange deck. Note that Bant Charm can also destroy
Basilisk Collar if need be.
Cryptic Command control:
If they’re U/W with a heavy focus on Oblivion Ring or Journey to Nowhere, you’ll want the second Pridemage, but on the whole, the matchup is quite
easy. These decks can only interact in the early game via Path to Exile, Mana Leak, and Lightning Bolt. For Mythic, the ramp from Path is so valuable
that you’ll only be in trouble if you run out of spells. Mana Leak is easy to play around, and Bolt will almost always trade for a mana dork instead of
a real spell. As long as you don’t let them just obliterate you with Day of Judgment or Baneslayer or Cruel Ultimatum, you’ll be fine.
If you don’t draw Kitchen Finks, life is hard. They’re going to kill all of your mana dorks and then swarm you. After sideboarding, all you want is as
many animals as possible to block Goblin Guide and assorted dorks, with Bant Charm there to bail you out of if they go ultimate with Figure of Destiny.
Sadly, even if they spend their burn spells on your early creatures, they’ll still have plenty of leftover ammo for Sower of Temptation, so Sower stays
on the bench.
I’m mystified why people are so reticent to play a beatdown deck that crushes Jund and Faeries. Hasn’t everyone been wanting to smash those decks for
the last four years? Get to it!
max dot mccall at gmail dot com