All of the answers.
The quest for them is a journey, an exploration. The answers themselves are often only interesting for a split second, a single moment. All of the
experiences that go into finding the truth not only amount to a great deal more time, they also have a lasting impact on the seeker. So often, knowing
how to find the answers is of greater long-term value than the answers for today’s question.
I love dynamic formats, formats that have recently changed and are not yet understood. There is a game within the game, where everyone races to try to
understand the future fast enough and well enough to give themselves an advantage in the present. Extended has its faults, but it’s a certainly a
dynamic format. Amsterdam showed us a radically different Extended format as a result of the format rules changing. Worlds was quite a bit different,
as Time Spiral block’s rotation dramatically altered the playing field. That format proved unstable and evolved miles beyond once Magic Online and the
PTQ season got their hands on it.
Now, we come to Mirrodin Besieged, a very high-impact set indeed. While Scars of Mirrodin offered a great number of possible playables, many of them
were just a card or two short of having a full deck to support them. Mirrodin Besieged has provided many of those cards, leaving the mystery of what
New Phyrexia (or Mirrodin Pure… or both?!) will do to all of Constructed. Sometimes, there is only so far you can push linears until they break…
In addition to fleshing out decks waiting to be created, a few key cards are having a massive impact across formats. Most notably, Sword of Feast and
Famine, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, and Green Sun’s Zenith have all made big waves in multiple arenas. In fact, Sword of Feast and Famine is completely
dominating current Extended, with over sixty percent of decks in the format packing it and with far more copies in each deck than in Standard.
Sixty percent of the field is playing Sword of Feast and Famine? People never got this into Umezawa’s Jitte in Extended, did they? This is pretty
unreal. When three of the four primary decks are Sword of Feast and Famine decks, my spider sense is tingling, letting me know there’s room to make a
sweet metagame call. Let’s start by taking a look at those three archetypes.
Faeries is such a perfect Sword of Feast and Famine deck, it is sickening. First of all, you have a massive number of perfect dudes to carry Swords.
What makes for a good dude to carry a Sword? Generally, low-investment guys that you want to play anyway but are generally not big threats. Baneslayer
carrying a Sword is no great feat, since the Baneslayer is often beating them anyway. Mutavault or a Spellstutter Sprite is perfect, however. You’ll
have them lying around so much of the time, and a Sword at any moment can be devastating.
Not only does Sword provide an incredible threat that provides card advantage (which Faeries appreciates) and makes individual creatures able to trade
up (which Faeries appreciates), it also leaves you fully untapped. This is much more than just a way to hold up Cryptic Command; this is a way to be
able to attack with lots of manlands per turn that you’d normally have to leave untapped. In addition to all this, Sword of Feast and Famine turns
Vampire Nighthawk from a niche sideboard card into a build-your-own Hypnotic-Baneslayer. This doesn’t even factor in how amazing protection from black
is in a world where people want to block with Faerie tokens!
Sword of Feast and Famine is such a perfect fit in Faeries that it’s immediately on my shortlist of decks to actually play in Extended. Faeries has
generally been by backup choice for an awful lot of formats where I’ve played Five-Color Control. When I began playtesting new Extended, I didn’t yet
have any sick new deck, and I knew that any Five-Color list I built would have to be from scratch. This meant my default deck would be Faeries until I
found something better.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Qasali Pridemage
- 3 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Mirran Crusader
Our very own Reid Duke is at the head of a major wave these past two weeks. While Stoneforge Mystic Bant is nothing new, Reid has made a number of
interesting changes that make this build much more of a descendant of Naya than Bant. First of all, you’ll notice there are no Sovereigns of Lost
Alara, no Finest Hours, no Rafiqs, not even Baneslayers. This deck is actually very low to the ground with a very aggressive curve. Rather than play
giant, expensive bombs, Reid is content to make his inexpensive bombs especially dangerous.
Knight of the Reliquary has long been a cornerstone of the format, but Mirran Crusader shines much brighter here than he does in Standard. Not only
does he hit for four on his own, he scales up radically once combined with Noble Hierarch, Qasali Pridemage, Elspeth, or Sword. Protection from black
is, of course, excellent, and protection from green actually goes a long way in today’s format. Not only is it great in the mirror (especially against
Bant Charm), it makes it unrealistic for Mono-Green Elf decks to actually have any sort of time against you at all.
Bant Charm is an interesting card, these days. It has greatly increased in value recently as a result of the massive increase in artifacts seeing play;
however it has a strange sort of drawback against Sword of Feast and Famine in that it will just be found again later by a Stoneforge Mystic. I’m not
entirely sure why this bothers me as much as it does, and in a deck as aggressive as Reid’s, it matters little, but my spidey sense is tingling.
Without cards like Cryptic Command and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Reid’s deck really is a Naya deck with Bant Charm and Mana Leak instead of Lightning
Bolt and Tribal Flames (Arc Trail?). If we’re going to try to hit this metagame from an angle, it’s going to have to be fast and not rely on a single
key card to save us. Faeries already picks those decks apart, and new Bant can put a very fast clock down, make every threat into a lethal one, and
protect its business with a surprising quantity of countermagic, especially after boarding. On the other hand, doesn’t a deck like this just scream
Volcanic Fallout to you…?
Now we come to Michael Hetrick evolution of U/W “Control” (though perhaps midrange is more suiting, as this is more of a Jund deck than a control
deck). After Caw-Blade’s utter domination of Paris, U/W moving in this direction in Extended was just about the least surprising development in quite
some time, but it’s interesting to see Hetrick’s list not contain much white control in the main. I wouldn’t be surprised if the correct build of U/W
next week has quite a different maindeck configuration. Hetrick is an excellent metagamer and built this list to beat the meta of the day. Things have
changed a lot in the past two weeks.
Personally, if I was playing just U/W, I’d probably want a lot more technology for the mirror and other Sword decks. Zero answers to Swords is
just not going to cut it. Additionally, Sun Titan is a strong option to consider, depending on what direction the metagame takes. While Prismatic
Omen-Valakut decks were a massive chunk of the field just a month ago, they have greatly fallen off as a result of Besieged, a trend that’s sure to
impact specific card choices. For instance, is War Priest of Thune really the right card, now?
In real life, however, I wouldn’t just play U/W, if I was going to play a deck like this. People are already finding that in Standard it is relatively
easy to get an edge in the pseudo-mirror by adding a color. It may even be that there is a future where the paper-rock-scissors of Standard involves a
bit of black/red/green (when it comes to what your third color should be). Personally, I do not think the future is that grim, but there are lessons to
be learned here.
One important difference between Standard and Extended, however, is that two-color decks get Mutavault “for free,” meaning that three-color Mystic
decks have less freebies, for targets. With no shortage of quality cards in Extended, there’s an argument to be made for just increased consistency and
getting the added value of cards like Mutavault. This argument, of course, is not very compelling compared to the allure of Vivid Creek…
Lead the Stampede is already well on its way to proving its worth as a card-draw spell in unpowered formats where you can actually play enough
creatures to consistently average three or more cards with it. Interestingly, this has helped prompt a move away from dedicated combo Elves, though not
at the expense of the Nettle Sentinel/Heritage Druid interaction. One of the things Lead the Stampede does is make you not want to play Primal Command
or Green Sun’s Zenith. This may come as a surprise to the loyal GSZ contingent that wants to play it in every format, but they need not fear; GSZ will
Another consequence of LtS is that it makes cards like Ranger of Eos and Regal Force much less important. Once you factor in Ezuri’s ability to provide
another “degenerate thing to do,” we find the allure of “the backup plan” too great to pass up. Getting used to playing against cards like Bramblewood
Paragon is actually very important and often neglected by players who don’t realize how tricky the play involved can be until after they’ve punted a
tournament or two away from not knowing the pacing of the card.
Fast and consistent, modern Elves is really more Stompy than anything else, with a number of similarities to Legacy Goblin decks. While this deck is
quite strong, it’s also among my favorite enemies. This deck is literally just a ton of dudes. This doesn’t mean we don’t respect it; it’s just that
you can use very blunt instruments when dealing with a problem like this. Seriously, doesn’t this format call out Volcanic Fallout? Obviously, this
build doesn’t fold to a Fallout the same way many combo Elf decks do, but that doesn’t make it “not-awesome.”
Fallout isn’t going to singlehandedly win the game against the Tier 1 decks; they’re too resilient. However, it’s a great tool against all of them
(with the possible exception of U/W, where it is merely decent). What does this mean for our brewing?
Well, logically, I spent the first day of playtesting with Brian Kowal building crazy Tezzeret decks. While many of his took on a more Grand Architect
structure, I focused on what I considered the logical starting point.
No, not Time Sieve; that would be too right-handed. I had some particularly eccentric ideas that I really wanted to try out.
Yeah. Seriously. Well, that is to say, seriously that’s what I spent my playtest day working on. Hey, you win some, you lose some. There are some cool
interactions here worth discussing, however.
Ichor Wellspring was actually super awesome in this deck. The interaction between Ichor Wellspring and Salvage Titan/Kuldotha Rebirth was actually
inspiring. When you need an artifact to sacrifice, Ichor Wellspring is actually two-mana draw-three (since you get two cards, plus the artifact
sacrifice you needed). I can’t even imagine if you actually had good cards in your deck! (One look at my defeated face, and you will surely have been
able to read it: Time Sieve? “Okay…”)
Salvage Titan is actually a pretty awesome dude when your opponent doesn’t play Path to Exile. Unfortunately, a lot of people do. Bant Charm is another
pain, and even just stuff like Naturalize, using two burn spells, Maelstrom Pulse, or whatever. Ahh, now we’re getting to the heart of it. Salvage
Titan is okay, but he just doesn’t hit from that strong of an angle. Even when he is good (and a turn-one Craw Wurm is pretty good), he isn’t that good.
I also tried a more traditional Tezzeret deck, or at least traditional in the sense that it was a ported version of my Paris deck. It was clear from
the get-go that I needed to gain more experience with the format before attempting such a play. The red flag that shied me away from that line of
inquiry is that Cryptic Command seems (to me) to be the absolute best card in the format, so playing Tezzeret as well makes it hard to imagine actually
playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor. If that’s the reality we live in, I’m not so sure I care to be a part of it.
All jokes aside, Tezzeret is obviously an insane card, but it’s going to take some real work to find a good spot for it. I’ll need a lot more
experience with Bant and Elves, as well as actually getting a chance to take a Time Sieve deck out for a test drive. If you’ve had some experience with
Time Sieve + Ichor Wellspring, I’d definitely appreciate any input you can provide in the forums.
What I did learn from playing this deck is that U/W and Faeries are both better than ever (the house decks). Eventually Kowal and I came to our senses
and just played those two decks against each other, a matchup that seems to have a fair number of twists and turns. One thing I definitely noticed was
that having only one copy of “The Good Sword” was crazy.
It was painfully clear from early on that there is no way this deck can afford to have only a single “Good Sword” when Thoughtseize can so easily
dismantle this game plan. Personally, I imagine you don’t need a “Bad Sword” at all; you can just run two good ones, but if you must keep a bad one,
you still need two that are good.
Another thing I learned is that I really enjoy Faeries with Sword of Feast and Famine, in all the ways I had imagined I would. No question, if I played
Extended tomorrow, that is what I’d play. To be fair, though, Faeries isn’t even the bad guy any more, right? Isn’t Stoneforge Mystic public enemy
Wait, what happened to Jund? Awkward.
From the very first time I hit BK with a Sword on a Mulldrifter (I was beating up his Grand Architect deck with _ShipItHolla’s U/W), I had seen the
writing on the wall. Five-Color Control… with Sword of Feast and Famine!
(Osyp, you can thank me later for doing my part to carry on the tradition of Mono-Sword of Feast and Famine articles…)
The problem is where do you go with that? Every time I start sketching out the lists, they quickly turn into two- or three-color decks. After all, once
you’re on that plan, what are you really getting out of other colors? Is that worth making half your lands enter the battlefield tapped? Let’s take a
close look at it:
White: Stoneforge Mystic. That alone is enough to have me interested in the color. Path is also pretty good, and it’s nice that white has access to so
many removal cards and defensive creatures. Plus, I love Esper Charm.
Blue: This is the primary color no matter what, for what I’m imagining. I come from the Cryptic Command school of thought, which is to say good decks
without Cryptic Command aren’t good decks. Am I joking? Only halfway. Yes, decks without Cryptic Command can perform well, but the future I see is one
where Cryptic Command is the highest spot on the totem pole. Additionally, blue is not exactly hurting in quality, ensuring we can fill out our build
without needing to dip into other colors for quality.
Black: I love Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, right now. Bitterblossom is super sweet with Swords, and Creeping Tar Pit is still great. The
removal in black is still great, despite the vulnerability to Swords.
Red: Let’s see; you get Lightning Bolt, Volcanic Fallout, and I guess Cruel Ultimatum (assuming you also have black). Bolt can be replaced by another
color; Fallout is awesome but not vital; and Cruel is sweet but not actually that well positioned (okay, sacrifice a token, a Finks, an Elf, a
Hierarch. Hit you with a Sword again…). Additionally, Sword of Feast and Famine is a big game, and you only need so much big game.
Green: I wasn’t really playing much green before, so this is not actually much of a category. There is Great Sable Stag, which is fine, but hardly
format breaking. Thrun is cute but probably not an A-game type of card. Bant Charm is sweet, but if we’re really all five colors, we can do better.
Most of the rest of what green offers us is either also done by white or pushes us in the direction of Bant. We could always try to explore Sovereigns
or Next Level Bant, but neither of those really pushes us towards 5C Anything.
It would seem that this attempt to build a Five-Color Sword deck has me wondering if Esper is really what I’m thinking about. As I said, if I could
play in a PTQ and it was tomorrow, I’d play Faeries. However, this is the starting point for where I want to explore in the week to come:
The quest for all the answers often involves learning a lot of what is not, before finding what is so. As such, we ought to be thankful for each bad
deck, each failed experiment, each play that didn’t pan out. They are what help build the successes and the understanding we prize so much.
No one is impressed, these days, when people play 24-27 land instead of 20 in their control decks. We take for granted that understanding, as it’s just
“obvious,” now. When you don’t experience the wrong, the right doesn’t mean as much.
One last piece of advice when searching for the truth: Listen inside yourself for where to explore next, what to think about, what to consider. You can
learn a lot from a school or a church or a Magic article, but The Truth is inside you. Why not have the courage to listen inside yourself for what to
explore? If a deck turns out to be a dud, great, you’ll be that much stronger, and the voice inside you guiding you will have learned what it sought to
learn from that experiment.
What has the world come to? I’m a Faeries player, now? The Phyrexians must be winning…
P.S. If I heard a voice in my head, it might have said that Time Spiral in Legacy is the real deal, and people ought be careful in case of eventual
format changes or whatever that might suddenly render their Candelabras worth much less (though that day is far off). Of course, I’m definitely not
saying that I hear voices in my head.