Innovations – Extended Decklists and the Metagame to Come

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Time Spiral Block Constructed season is winding to a close, and it’s time to move to Constructed pastures new. Traditionally, Block Constructed is the least powerful of the sixty-card formats. Patrick Chapin has a decent antidote to this low-level play… Extended! With Pro Tour: Valencia looming large, the Innovator brings us his personal take on the current Extended metagame, with decklists, PLAY tips, and predictions galore!

Blurb: Time Spiral Block Constructed season is winding to a close, and it’s time to move to Constructed pastures new. Traditionally, Block Constructed is the least powerful of the sixty-card formats. Patrick Chapin has a decent antidote to this low-level play… Extended! With Pro Tour: Valencia looming large, the Innovator brings us his personal take on the current Extended metagame, with decklists, PLAY tips, and predictions galore!

Fortunately, the slow summer season for Magic is winding down and some big tournaments are on the horizon. The next big, big tournament is obviously Pro Tour: Valencia, in beautiful Spain. While obviously only three or four hundred people will be able to play in this PT, thousands more will obviously be rocking the PTQ season to follow.

Of course, the metagame will be largely defined by the results of Valencia, but it is certainly not too early to start preparing for the season to come. Besides, Extended has traditionally always been one of those formats that you can pick a deck with which to practice hard, and as long as you are experienced and strong with your choice, as well as knowledgeable about the match-ups, you can succeed even if it is not the consensus best choice in the format (or even one of the Top 10).

Another thing to remember is that the field will be very diverse. There are likely to be at least 20 major archetypes enjoying some level of success. Building a strategy just to hose a couple key players will likely not be optimal. I was talking with Michael J the other day, and he reminded me about a little tidbit regarding The Rock.

MichaelJ: In the history of the Pro Tour, The Rock has never been the right deck to play.

This does not mean that you should never play The Rock. He went on to explain that the Rock is a metagame deck designed to prey on a known metagame. You can make The Rock beat combo, you can make it beat aggro, you can even make it beat control, but you can’t do it all. You even have to know what specific forms of each you are gunning to beat. The Rock is a 120-card deck that you have to cut to 60 each time you play.

The point is that Valencia is probably going to be a wide open metagame. Sure, everyone knows that Tarmogoyf is going to be insane, but that doesn’t tell us that much. There will likely be a dozen archetypes (at least) making room for that guy. Maybe The Rock is where it is at this time. It just hasn’t been so far.

Note: PTQs are a totally different story. The season following the PT is often a very well established metagame, where The Rock can thrive.

Anyway, the metagame, as I see it, looks like this so far (no particular order):

1. Typical Aggro (Domain Zoo, Boros, Dark Boros, and RDW with Goyf)
2. Green Mid-Range decks (Loam, Gifts Rock, and Flow Rock)
3. Highly Synergistic Aggro Decks (Affinity, Madness, and Goblins)
4. Control (Tron, Tog, and No Stick)
5. Combo (Desire, Dredge, Cephalid Illusionist, and Ideal)

Here are some lists for the Gauntlet:

This is certainly one of the decks to beat. At this point everyone is familiar with the Tribal Flames/Gaea’s Might synergy with Fetchlands and Shocklands. This is probably the fastest mainstream aggro deck, clocking turn 4 on the average, and turn 3 on a good day, primarily on the back of Boros Swiftblade + Gaea’s Might. Tarmogoyf is an obvious addition, and far better than Watchwolf could ever hope to be.

Seal of Fire and Mishra’s Bauble are fine cards in their own right (Bauble with Fetchlands…), and have been added to get the most bang for your buck on the Tarmogoyfs. I am not a big fan of relying on your opponent to power up your Tarmogoyfs for obscure types. I mean, there is probably only a 50-50 chance they will have Tarmogoyf. You definitely do, so make the most of it.

The manabase listed here may need to be updated a little, depending on if you decide to actually play any Blue or Black in the board. For instance, I wanted to account for Meddling Mage and Evasive Action, hence the extra Blue Mana. If you are going to run Black, you will probably need to cut a Flooded Strand for a Blood Crypt.

In my experience, this strategy is solid or better against pretty much everything not designed to beat it. I would say this is the early favorite for top deck, though it has obvious weak points, such as easy to remove creatures, pump spells, a lack of disruption, a lot of self-inflicted pain, and an over-reliance on shock and fetch lands.

This deck does some powerful things, that’s for sure. For starters, it features two of the best card drawers in the history of modern Magic, Life from the Loam and Dark Confidant. In addition, creatures like Tarmogoyf and Terravore have an impressive power and toughness, Burning Wish provides huge utility, Black provides some solid disruption and removal, and Seismic Assault is one heck of an end game.

A strong deck, though it is vulnerable to graveyard hate to a degree, and in the end, it’s little more than a super-charged, glorified, The Rock deck.

Still, with as much powerful action as Loam is packing, it is certainly a candidate to consider and a deck you must be prepared to face. For instance, it is very hard for many No Stick decks to even develop a plan to combat Loam after boarding.

This strategy is fairly customizable, but lacks enough disruption to hang with combo, in my opinion. If you add a bunch of Duresses, you start really hurting some of your other match-ups. The ideal situation would be if there were a bullet you could Wish for to beat Desire. Unfortunately, Cranial Extraction is not going to cut it, as you would name Burning Wish and they would still have a Tendrils.

For some reason, people keep forgetting about how insane Affinity can be. Yes, it gets hosed by Kataki, Hurkyl’s Recall, and Ancient Grudge, but it is one of the most dominant strategies of all time. It’s like Michael Flores says, Affinity is the only deck to ever have a positive expected value despite over 50% of the field playing it.

Still, I don’t like leaving myself so enormously vulnerable to hate. If you are going to play Affinity, you need to prepare for each of the devastating hate cards (like those mentioned above), as well as cards that are naturally strong against you (like Pernicious Deed), as well as cards that will allow you to gain an edge in the mirror (like Hurkyl’s Recall or Ancient Grudge).

The addition of Tarmogoyf will be a popular one, as a 4/5 for two is very much in line with what Affinity is trying to do. Shrapnel Blast has strong synergy with your Tarmogoyf, in addition to helping deal with an opposing Tarmogoyf that may be holding off your team.

This particular incarnation of Tron is built primarily to abuse the cards Gifts Ungiven, Tolaria West, Crucible of Worlds, and Academy Ruins. You have some light U/W Control elements that try to buy you time to set up the Tron and take full advantage of your massive mana advantage. Aside from ginormous Decrees and monsters, the Uber-Plan is to set up a Mindslaver lock, often by Giftsing for Mindslaver, Crucible of Worlds, Petrified Field, and Academy Ruins.

Given enough time and mana, this deck has inevitability over most strategies, though is vulnerable to hate targeting artifacts, or worse, its manabase. Hopefully Richard Feldman will have some light to shine on the future of this archetype, as he did a great deal of work furthering its development during the last Extended season.

This is a classic Storm Combo deck that revolves around casting a Mind’s Desire with a Storm of about six or so. This is usually enough to start hitting more Desires and Sins, or at the very least a Burning Wish and enough rituals to keep going. Once you Desire the second time, it is fairly academic, as you will typically be able to chain Desires together to Desire your entire library, finishing with a Tendrils or Burning Wish.

This deck is amazingly powerful against an unprepared opponent, or even an opponent without much disruption, as it is probably the fastest deck in the format, with the possible exception of some Cephalid Illusionist deck. It is, however, very disruptable, particularly to cards like Molten Rain and Vindicate. In addition, Duress is solid and Orim’s Chant is backbreaking.

I will get into the format more as Valencia and the PTQ season to follow, approach. For now, I think it is fair to say that a few things have become clear:

1. The format is fast. Aggro wins on turn 4 or better, and Combo is even faster.
2. There are far too many avenues of attack to cover them all. With threats ranging from the Graveyard (Loam and Ichorid) to Storm (Desire and Empty) to Enchantments (Counterbalance and Solitary Confinement) to Artifacts (Isochron Scepter and Jitte) to Lands (Treetop Village to Tron) to Burn (Tribal Flames and tons of Incinerate type cards) to Discard (Duress and Cabal Therapy) to Permission (Counterspell and Remand) to Card Drawing (Dark Confidant and Fact or Fiction-esque cards) to unbelievably impressive men (Tarmogoyf and Kird Ape), this format is deadly from many angles.
3. Doing something proactive is probably much better than being reactive. Even the control decks are proactive, locking out opponents with Isochron Scepters, Counterbalances, and Mindslavers.
4. Mana efficiency is vital. Tarmogoyf defines the mana curve. Anything you do that costs more than two mana, ought to be significantly better than a 4/5.
5. The online metagame will not reflect the metagame in real life. Cards like Deed, Meddling Mage, and Orim’s Chant are just too hard to get a hold of online. As a result, the online metagame is severely warped.
6. Cards that prey on popular generalities get stronger. For instance, Threads of Disloyalty is a strong answer to Tarmogoyf that happens to also be good against Dark Confidant, Boros Swiftblade, Kird Ape, and so on. Smother is another good one, these days. Also, cards like Destructive Flow and Molten Rain can be very effective. So many of the good cards cost two, and Spell Snare will be a key player.
7. Building Extended decks will not likely be cheap. Between Shocklands, Fetchlands, Tarmogoyfs, and rares ranging from Deeds to Dark Confidants, this will not be the most accessible format you have ever played.

See you guys next week when I get down to Innovating (as in some hot new technology that I had to argue with certain people to convince them to let me share)!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”