Innovations – A Taste of Things to Come: Extended on the Horizon

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Monday, September 1st – The Block Constructed season is slowly winding down… it’s time to turn our Constructed eyes to pastures new! Today’s Innovations sees Patrick Chapin investigating the state of play in the forthcoming Extended format. He updates a number of old favorites, and brings us a fresh deck that promises much…

With the bitter taste of the previous Block season fading now that the season is all but over, many eyes are turning to the new Extended. It is a wide open new landscape to explore, with many radical changes promising to leave the format a rich new place to play.

Before getting into the changes from the new rotations and new sets, let’s take a look at where we were when the previous Extended season ended.

While the previous season was wide open in terms of viable decks, I think it is fair to say that by the end of the season the format’s Tier 1 decks were clearly Dredge and Next Level Blue, as well as possibly Tron (U/W or U/G depending on the week).

That is not exactly a long list… however, the exciting part of the format was the fact that viable decks also included TEPS, Ideal, Heartbeat, Zoo, Death Cloud, Loam, Martyr, Spirit Stompy, Doran, Goblins, a variety of Rocks as well as a multitude of other Blue decks, just to start a list.

The point is, while there was a tier 1, it was not so outrageous of a disparity that it could not be overcome, though many would say that Dredge was a very obnoxious presence in the metagame and that Sensei’s Divining Top was just too good.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote an article entitled “Dredge: a Serious Problem and how to deal with it,” in which I foretold of a future where the entire Extended metagame would be warped by the abomination that is Dredge. Unfortunately, that nightmare came true.

Some called for the banning of Narcomoeba (that or Dread Return would probably be the best card to hit to try to answer the specific problem of the Dredge deck), but it never materialized, leaving Dredge the most decorated winner by the end of the season. Narcomoeba managed to dodge the banned list, no doubt at least partially due to the knowledge that with the new rotation Dredge decks would be severely neutered, if not killed outright.

For reference, here’s a Dredge list by the end of the season. You will notice that while the Dredge cards themselves are from Ravnica and many of the insane combo pieces like Dread Return, Narcomoeba, and Bridge from Below are from Time Spiral Block, the discard outlets are universally from Odyssey Block.

With the loss of Putrid Imp, Cephalid Coliseum, Breakthrough, and so on, it is unclear how Dredge decks will be able to discard their dredge cards early enough, reliably enough. As a result, what was a turn 2.5 kill deck has become a turn 4 kill deck. Hardly the monster that we all came to loathe.

Is Dredge dead? Well, in its old incarnation it certainly is; however, the mechanic is probably the most broken mechanic the game has ever known, outside of Storm. As such, I think there is a good chance an enterprising deckbuilder can go into the tank and brew up the next step in the evolution of Dredge.

Life from the Loam is certainly a Dredge card, as is Darkblast, but all things considered, if that is the type of dredging you are doing, I don’t think anyone will hold it against you. It is when your game plan degenerates into not actually casting spells that cost mana and just milling your library until you assemble a game winning combo that sort of rubs people the wrong way (at least when you do it before their 3rd turn).

The challenge is there. Find a way to break dredge again. The Dredge cards are there. The combo kill is there. The missing link is the discard outlet. Figure out how to get dredge cards into your graveyard and you can realistically win the game a couple turns later, maybe sooner if you have a massive card drawing engine like Breakthrough (Goblin Lore?).

With Dredge’s departure, Next Level Blue and Tron seem the natural inheritors of the throne. While both could compete with Dredge, given enough graveyard hate, now they are not even going to be burdened with such design constraints.

By the end of the season, Next Level Blue looked like the above deck. As you can see, for the most part, all it lost was Counterspell. This is not replaced cleanly, but there are a variety of options such as Mana Leak, Remand, Condescend, Rune Snag, and more Cryptic Commands, as well as just playing less permission.

Here is what an updated Next Level Blue deck might look like:

Next Level Blue is generally considered to be the “best” Sensei’s Divining Top deck, as in it takes best advantage of the Top due to its Counterbalance lock, its ability to retrieve the Top with Trinket Mage, and its ability to pitch extra Tops to Thirst for Knowledge.

In addition, it utilizes the classic combination of Top plus Onslaught Fetchlands for incredible draw consistency, which is the real reason why Top decks performed better than any other deck except Dredge. (Which regulates its draw by Dredging every turn).

Next Level Blue is not a true control deck, as its lock mechanism does not totally shut out all strategies, nor does it have enough reaction to deal with every threat. Rather, it is ultra efficient and consistent for an aggro-control deck that seeks to get enough value from its under-costed cards, card advantage, and tempo, to win with a Tarmogoyf or Vedalken Shackles.

Let’s examine Tron (a.k.a. the Enemy). Now that Dredge is no longer public enemy number one, we need a new villain to hate. That mantle may fall to Tron.

Aside from its huge power level, it loses very little (Fact or Fiction, Skycloud Expanse, and Moment’s Peace, depending on the build), has natural strengths against Next Level Blue, and is considered a “far more random” control deck, even being referred to as “Dredge for Blue Mages” on more than one occasion.

This is not meant as an insult to Tron or Tron players, it is merely drawing attention to the fact that while Next Level Blue’s best feature, Sensei’s Divining Top, reduces randomness, Tron’s best feature increases it (drawing the Tron). As a result, Tron is more prone to inconsistent draws but a high count of broken draws, whereas Next Level Blue blows out people less often, but performs in a stable manner a greater percentage of the time.

To be fair, Next Level Blue also employs Counterbalance, an extraordinarily random card, and Tron has library manipulation like Gifts or Condescend, so it does work both ways. Still, few things are as frustrating as the natural turn 3 Tron, especially backed with a Signet, leading to such hits as Sundering Titan or Decree of Justice.

The big question with regards to Tron is whether to play U/G or U/W. Blue/Green Tron decks are defined by their use of Life from the Loam, typically with Gifts Ungiven to assemble the Tron, eventually leading to a Mindslaver lock with Academy Ruins.

Blue/White Tron decks are a little less focused on the true lock, though the capability is still there. Instead, they utilize more “big” effects to gain an insurmountable advantage on the board, using White cards like Wrath of God, Decree of Justice, and Oblivion Ring to help develop a position where there enormous mana advantage can be leveraged into a win.

The other big difference between U/G and U/W Tron decks was that, traditionally, the U/G decks used Gifts Ungiven as their card drawer (in addition to Thirst for Knowledge), whereas U/W used Fact or Fiction (caring more about raw power than selection). Now that Fact or Fiction is gone, one is tempted to start with U/G Tron, but the loss of Moment’s Peace is deceptively big.

As such, I am starting with U/W, borrowing the Gifts engine. Remember, you can Gifts for Crucible of Worlds, Academy Ruins, Tolaria West, and Mindslaver for the lock, or Crucible, Academy Ruins, and up to two Tron pieces you are missing.

This build is inspired by Adam Yurchick’s U/W Tron deck from Grand Prix: Philly. He had been playing U/G Tron, but switched for this event on account of this build being better against Gaddock Teeg, according to him. The only real strategic change is replacing the Tormod’s Crypt with a Crucible of Worlds.

Graveyard combo does not appear to warrant game 1 hate any longer, and the Crucible is a concession to your replacing Fact or Fiction with Gifts Ungiven.

Next, I want to take a quick look at a couple of decks that survived the rotation relatively intact and promise to be contenders.

First of all, Affinity is the new King of Linear. Whereas in the old Extended you pretty much had to dedicate a bunch of slots to beating Dredge if you wanted to be able to compete with it, the new linear to prepare for is Affinity.

There is plenty to read up on to study up on Affinity, so I will just list you. Do an article search for the word “affinity” for more on this subject.

The deck is extraordinarily powerful, but cards like Kataki, War’s Wage; Hurkyl’s Recall; Shatterstorm; Shattering Spree; Ancient Grudge; and Fracturing Gust ensure that everyone short of Mono-Black has tools to hose Artifact decks.

The next deck I want to bring to your attention is TEPS. The Extended Perfect Storm is a Mind’s Desire deck that attempts to cast a bunch of “rituals” then Mind’s Desire, and arrange a situation where it can play the spells revealed by Desire followed by a way to Desire again. Usually, at this point another Storm kill card, such as Tendrils of Agony or Empty the Warrens, ends the game.

This deck actually lost a fair bit from the rotation, such as Burning Wish, Cabal Ritual, and Invasion Sac-Lands. However, unlike Dredge, there are a surplus of viable options to replace these cards so it is very possible that the new TEPS is almost as good. Storm can be very hard for a lot of people to answer, and TEPS is traditionally among the fastest archetypes in the game.

This is just a starting point, as many options must be considered, including Chromatic Star (Sphere is better against Leyline of the Void), more Moxes, more Rituals, more Plunges and Sins, more interactive cards, more land, Night’s Whisper, and Infernal Tutor, among other great options.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that some form of Zoo, Death Cloud, Slide, and Faeries should all be viable with some work. However, I only have time for one more deck, an archetype that needs to be given a serious look, as it is certainly good and possibly great.

This Spring I talked about how Seismic Swans was the Future in Standard. A few weeks later I published a list that used Ponder, Telling Time, and Beseech the Queen to fuel the three-card combo of Swans of Bryn Argoll, Seismic Assault, and Dakmor Salvage.

While this strategy was initially laughed at by much of the Magic community, there were those that took it seriously. By the end of the Summer, almost this exact list was among the best performing decks in the format, winning a number of National Championships and placing countless others.

The key is that Swans of Bryn Argoll is a card drawing engine that doesn’t require mana. If you create a situation where you can convert cards into damage to your Swan at an efficient rate, you can draw your entire library, which obviously leads to a trivial win.

In Standard the most efficient way to do this is Seismic Assault. Even if you don’t have a Dakmor Salvage in hand, all of your lands are now draw twos. This is often enough to get you there. The drawback is that the combo requires three pieces and 2 Gaea’s Blessings to ensure that you can actually win while going off.

In Extended, there is a more efficient way. You can use Chain of Plasma with the Swans to draw 3 cards. Then discard a card to repeat this process. Eventually you will have drawn your entire library. You have access to Chrome Mox, which allows for a Conflagrate kill (of which you only need one, as opposed to two Blessing).

The net result is that your combo now only costs 6 mana and only 2 cards, plus you have one less “bad card” in your deck. Also, one of your combo pieces is Chain of Plasma, which is a fine card in its own right, unlike Seismic Assault, which is traditionally fairly weak on its own.

The downside is that it is 4+2, instead of 3+4, which is not as natural a curve. However, this can work to your advantage if you set the deck to be a little less “turbo” and a little bit more of a pseudo-control deck that just happens to win on turn 4 with a two-card kill.

As a result, I built the deck to be a bit of a Counterbalance control deck that tries to survive long enough to set up the quick Swan Kill. This list is very early stage, as it does not account for what people will be doing to stop our combo. However, it is great starting point as it will surely crush most new Extended decks that people build.

While there is so much more to say on the new Extended than can possibly be said here, I have to wrap things up for this week. Also, it is medium awkward for me to write this article on the timeline that I must, as September 1st may change everything.

I suspect that Sensei’s Divining Top may be placed on the Banned list. Its power level is debatable, and in a format with Mind’s Desire, Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Arcbound Ravager, and so on it is hard to say that it is truly “too good.” That said, it also has been a serious offender when it comes to tournaments being run in a healthy way.

Tournament organizers across the globe have complained about how Sensei’s Divining Top grinds tournaments to a gruelingly slow pace, with every round going into extra turns (which take many minutes apiece).

Personally, I think Sensei’s Divining Top is clearly the best card in the format, and what the format revolves around. It is by far my favorite card, and not just for power level, but for the decisions it forces me to make. That said, I am a little sick of playing mirrors where they draw a Top, I don’t, and I know I can’t actually win.

Still, maybe simply banning Counterbalance would solve that…

If you are reading this and Sensei’s Top should happened to be banned, take a look at which of these decks use Top and which don’t. The ones that don’t will only be that much stronger.

Next Level Blue will probably look more like Cheon and LSV’s Previous Level Blue. The Swans deck will just have to adopt a much more speed-oriented approach, looking to combo off as fast as possible. Without Top, I just don’t see what the incentive is to waiting around outside of maybe Gifts Ungiven.

Finally, before I take off, I just wanted to mention that you guys that play video games should check out Schizoid, a relatively new game in which Richard Garfield helped lead the design. He is a brilliant game designer whose gifts to gamers extend well beyond Magic. The game is pretty cool. I admit that I only gave it a shot because Garfield designed it, but I am glad I did. Check it out!

I am taking off to go to Italy in a couple of days, but you know you can find me here on Monday. See you then!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”