You want to know how to fix Extended? Well, one nice—albeit short-term—fix is to ban Lorwyn block, Shards block, Zendikar block, and the
Look, I’m not saying we need to have a boatload of Block Constructed, but in moderation, block formats are very cool and a very stark contrast to other
formats. It’s a really fun change of pace to play such underpowered formats. I realize that Lorwyn block kind of left a sour taste in some people’s
mouths, but Faeries is not going to happen every block. Even Shards block, with Bloodbraid Elf and all, would’ve made for a good PTQ season.
My suggestion? Perhaps make Extended a major format every other year (and go back to a seven-year format). Block can certainly pick up the slack.
Though the upcoming Japanese Pro Tour will feature New Phyrexia, I recently decided to try my hand at the current Block format, just to get a feel for
it (and have some fun). To start with, I checked out the results from the Daily Events on the What’s Happening page
of the Mothership. Navigating the WotC page is no small feat (personally, I find Google to be more effective); however the route to get to this page is
to start by going to “sideboard.com” and clicking on “Digital Games” (top), followed by selecting “Magic Online” (on your left) and then “What’s
Happening” (under that). From here, Event Coverage can be found on the right-hand side when you scroll down.
An initial investigation revealed that the two most popular strategies by far were Mono-R and Mono-W. Here is a fairly typical Mono-R list:
- 24 Mountain
As you can see, this strategy is most reminiscent of the Kuroda Red (or “Big Red”) from Mirrodin Block Constructed (not to be confused with Kuldotha
Red). Flores wrote an excellent piece on the strategy, here , that is a good refresher. This is a pretty classic midrange deck in that it plays like a control deck against aggro (burn their
guys, then win with fatties and planeswalkers) and an aggro deck against control (drop threat after threat, then finish with a flurry of burn).
Things I noted about this deck:
1) It is very good at killing small creatures.
2) Koth, Phoenix, and Galvanic Blast all deal four.
3) It uses plenty of artifacts.
4) It can destroy artifacts with value.
5) Perilous Myr kills Phyrexian Crusader.
6) Koth, Phoenix, Precursor Golem, and Wurmcoil Engine are the primary threats.
7) Features no interaction beyond burn and artifact destruction.
The other strategy that seemed to be everywhere was Mono-W, generally built around Tempered Steel. Here is an example:
- 16 Plains
- 4 Inkmoth Nexus
This is basically just a port of the various Tempered Steel decks into Block, which awkwardly enough are now referred to by some as “Hawkward.” This
sort of strategy is very “Stompy” in nature (as are many White Weenie decks), in that it doesn’t really feature interaction so much as it just tries to
run over people. Given the artifact-centric nature of the block, a variety of artifact removal is picked up almost incidentally. I noted several
characteristics of this deck, as well:
1) Tempered Steel makes every creature an incredible threat.
2) It cannot remove non-artifact creatures easily.
3) It can remove artifacts easily.
4) It has a ton of creatures, most of which are artifacts.
5) Sweepers are good against it, but it does have a variety of ways to fight them (Origin Spellbomb, Glint Hawk Idol, Master’s Call, Chimeric Mass).
6) Hero of Bladehold is potentially a problem if not dealt with immediately.
7) Another deck with no disruption, be it permission, mana denial, or discard.
Interestingly, there appears to be a Mono-R version of the white aggro deck (actual Kuldotha Red) and a Mono-W version of the red midrange deck (a
strategy after Flores’s heart):
- 1 Sword of Body and Mind
- 4 Mox Opal
- 4 Chimeric Mass
- 4 Kuldotha Rebirth
- 4 Flayer Husk
- 1 Sword of Feast and Famine
- 4 Ichor Wellspring
- 1 Piston Sledge
- 21 Plains
- 4 Inkmoth Nexus
While there were a few rogue decks here and there, the most common color combinations beyond Mono-R and Mono-W were U/B and Mono-B (Infect). The U/B
decks were generally divided between the U/B Control decks and the U/B Tezzeret decks (which could then be divided between Forgemaster, Infect, and
Control). Here’s an example of U/B Control and a Tezzeret list:
- 11 Swamp
- 13 Island
- 4 Darkslick Shores
It seems that it’s taking people some time to get used to a format where mana is not the biggest free roll in the world (as it has been in most formats
for a long time now). Most of the U/B lists I saw looked sketchy at best, as they did not feature the sort of card advantage I’d want. The most
interesting takeaway was just how little people were exploring what was possible with their mana.
The Mono-B decks, on the other hand, were all of the same variety, Infect:
- 4 Plague Stinger
- 3 Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
- 4 Hand of the Praetors
- 1 Corpse Cur
- 4 Phyrexian Crusader
- 3 Phyrexian Vatmother
- 4 Plague Myr
- 22 Swamp
- 4 Inkmoth Nexus
After analyzing this meta, which consists of primarily monocolor decks with little to no disruption, I decided to try my hand at a four-color control
deck. I figured that between twelve Scars lands, four Horizon Spellbombs, and four Sphere of the Suns, I’d be able to make the mana without too much
trouble. I starting by putting together a list of some pretty sweet cards, with an eye out for a realistic mana curve. After a little tuning, I arrived
at the following list:
Horizon Spellbomb is the spell that makes the strategy possible. Aside from being a fixer for all of your colors, it’s also a much needed two-for-one.
Knowing that I needed green as a base, I was immediately drawn to Slice in Twain. Why not play Slice in Twain main? Almost every list I looked at
featured a lot of artifacts and enchantments. Slice in Twain looks very much like a Dismiss in this world. Besides, you haven’t lived until you’ve
Sliced in Twain a Precursor Golem! Yes, I’d prefer to use it to my opponent’s, but in the unlikely event they don’t have any targets, there’s always
the possibility of “protecting” my Golem with one (if they kill it, at least I get to “Ancestral” in response).
The other green card I thought was important was Thrun, the Last Troll. I had a feeling that my removal would be an area of strength for me, leaving
the path generally clear for Thrun to get through. The early shrouded aggression would help alleviate some of my vulnerability to planeswalkers and
give me a great tool against people who don’t get Sliced in Twain. Besides, Thrun can do a reasonable job of holding the ground and helping me get more
value out of my Slagstorms.
Slagstorm seemed like a good sweeper because of its low cost to combat White while still having applications against Golem, Commando, and
planeswalkers. It can also burn people out very easily.
Red Sun’s Zenith seemed to be extraordinarily well positioned in the format and the reason to play red. It could generally trade early, with cards like
Signal Pest and Iron Myr, got value out of the Disintegration (exiling Perilous Myr, Kuldotha Phoenix, Viridian Emissary, Corpse Cur, etc.), and made
an excellent finisher that could take advantage of how much mana I was sure to end up with as a result of all my card advantage.
Sunblast Angel looked like it would be awesome but turned out to be merely good. I like having so many sweepers in this world, and the 4/5 body is an
excellent size when facing Kuldotha Phoenix, Koth of the Hammer, and Glint Hawk Idol with Tempered Steel. The downside is that apparently everyone in
the format is well aware of Sunblast Angel’s existence, and decks are built to mitigate the damage.
Consecrated Sphinx seemed like the primary reason to play blue, offering an awesome body and actually getting to live the vast majority of the time it
was played. As long as most removal takes the form of Galvanic Blast and Revoke Existence, big creatures that take over games when they live are
particularly appealing. Volition Reins and Stoic Rebuttal seemed very sweet, but all this double and triple blue action seemed like it might stretch
the mana base a little tight.
Sphere of the Suns was absolutely awesome… when it lived. Providing whatever color I needed and providing much needed acceleration, it looked like
one of the best cards in the deck, except that people not only had artifact kill main, but they boarded even more. On top of this, I thought people
should be playing even more than they already were. I was getting positive results, but I wondered if I could make do without being vulnerable to
Moving Precursor Golem to the sideboard was easy, with Elspeth taking his place. Tumble Magnet leaving would make my Sunblast Angels less effective,
but removal could be replaced. Galvanic Blast was going to be a lot less valuable in this build, so that probably had to go as well. Still, the only
painful loss from this transition was Sphere of the Suns. I was not sure I could even make the mana work without it.
My solution? A combination of Viridian Emissary and Phyrexian Rager. Adding black would mean I wanted to cut a color, but Red Sun’s Zenith and Horizon
Spellbomb basically limited my options to cutting white or cutting blue. While I could live without Sunblast Angel, I was very excited by the prospect
of playing White Sun’s Zenith. I’ll be experimenting with a version featuring blue instead of white in the future, but I wanted to start with the more
proactive game plan. The addition of Viridian Emissary and Phyrexian Rager would help address my weakness to Koth, as well as give me a nice way to put
pressure on someone who tries to play control against me.
Here is my current build:
As you can see, I’ve pushed the Slicing in Twain to the limit and have been loving every second of it. It’s so good that it’s out of anticipation for
its massive adoption that I’ve forced myself to play without targets, as it really does feel like this format’s Flametongue Kavu.
My removal suite looks a little strange, but long-time readers are no doubt well-aware of the penchant for miser’s cards that LSV, Nassif, Gerry, and
myself all share, especially when it comes to reactive cards. When you compare Galvanic Blast (yes, it is basically just a Shock), Burn the Impure, and
Go for the Throat to Condemn, Doom Blade, and (well) Go for the Throat, it’s less jarring.
Go for the Throat is easily my least favorite of these, given the quantity of artifact creatures seeing play; however I did want a little more
protection from Phyrexian Crusader and Phyrexian Vatmother (with more in the board). Burn the Impure is actually not really for infect creatures but
rather serves very nearly as an Incinerate (primarily only missing out on fighting planeswalkers). Grand Architect, Putrefax, Inkmoth Nexus, Glint Hawk
Idol, and Precursor Golem are among my favorite targets. Galvanic Blast gives me more assistance against Inkmoth Nexus and Glint Hawk Idol, but I like
the options offered by having a removal spell of a different cost as well as the possibility of going to the dome (which is most likely to come up when
a Phyrexian Rager or Viridian Emissary is trying to take down a Koth.
Speaking of taking down a Koth, the Hammer himself is the most difficult challenge presented by the format for this sort of strategy. While I have been
very satisfied with my results against Tempered Steel, U/B, and a number of rogue decks, a quick Koth is a very real problem. Thrun, the Last Troll,
Hero of Oxid Ridge, Hero of Bladehold, Viridian Emissary, and Red Sun’s Zenith are brought in to increase the aggression and put more pressure on a Red
Liquimetal Coating may be terrible but is an idea I wanted to try to combat Red. Bringing in more artifact removal helps keep the Phoenix from coming
back, plus combining it with the Coating gives me more outs to an active Koth. Additionally, Revoke Existence exiling Perilous Myr is nice but can also
be good on a Kuldotha Phoenix that has been Coated. I’m only running two Liquimetal Coatings because I don’t want artifact removal to be good against
me. This way, if they keep artifact kill in against me, it will be dead more often than not, and if they don’t, I’m especially happy when I do draw one
of my Coatings.
A final point on the sideboard: The high number of singletons is not just because of our addiction to mising. When you’re playing a controlling and
reactive strategy, having a large variety of options can help you tune your deck more precisely than a 4-4-4-3 board. Just consider how few the number
of permutations are for such a sideboard compared to a sideboard of fifteen one-ofs. This advantage should not be overestimated, as generally, power
trumps variety, but it’s a factor that most seem to overlook. In addition to having more possible ways to board, it also lets you play cards that
exploit those instances when someone doesn’t have good answers to a specific type of proactive card. Everyone is familiar with the Baneslayer
sideboard, but that’s only a glimpse of what’s possible. Hero of Bladehold seems especially attractive in this role.
I have to say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my foray into Block, thus far, and am greatly looking forward to what New Phyrexia brings to the format. I highly
recommend checking it out, as it’s refreshing to play a powered-down format that’s so different from Standard and double-Standard (Extended). Yeah,
Legacy is awesome, and people are going to be playing that more and more as we get closer to Providence (as if it wasn’t super-popular already). Still,
variety is the spice of life, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned and discoveries to be made in Scars Block.
Besides, who doesn’t love to brew?