Innovations – Standard and Extended Explosion!

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Returns to Richmond!
Monday, October 13th – Shards of Alara is shaking up all forms of Constructed Magic. From Vintage to Standard, the new cards are causing quite a stir. Today’s Innovations sees Patrick Chapin examine Extended (with an eye to Berlin) and Standard (with an eye to the upcoming StarCityGames.com $5K Open). If you want a head start on your opponents, Chapin delivers!

Extended? Standard? That is the trick, see, you give them two choices and both are Constructed. It’s win-win.

Since there seemed to be a lot of voices on both sides, I guess I will talk about both major Constructed formats, today. After all, Pro Tour: Berlin is in three weeks, so Extended is hot, and the StarCityGames.com $5k Open is in two weeks, so Standard is important too.

First up, Extended.

Last season, the Extended format was dominated by Dredge and Next Level Blue, but this did not stop a variety of strategies, ranging from Tron to Zoo, TEPS to Doran, Ideal to Burn, Affinity to Loam, from occupying spots in the metagame. The format was pretty wide open, considering how much it was warped around Sensei’s Divining Top and Narcomoeba.

This season, many good Dredge enablers have rotated out, and the Top is banned. Many decks have had core cards like Burning Wish, Vindicate, Moment’s Peace, and Devastating Dreams ripped from them. Where does this leave us?

I am of the opinion that Extended is defined by combo and aggro, namely Storm decks and Affinity (although Zoo is also important). Last week, I talked at length about Storm with Ad Nauseam. One of the interesting things about Storm combo decks is that there are many ways to build them.

One direction is to replace Ad Nauseam, Peer through Depths, and Pentad Prism with Plunge into Darkness, Ponder, and Desperate Ritual. Another way to go is to replace the Ad Nauseams and Tendrils with Dragonstorms and Dragons (either Bogardan Hellkites or Kokusho, the Evening Star).

The Storm engine I want to cover today takes a page out of the Aussie Storm playbook, capitalizing on the Grapeshot / Pyromancer’s Swath combo.

The basic idea is that you search for a Mind’s Desire and then start filtering though your deck, drawing cards, making mana, and building Storm until you eventually finish your opponent off with a Grapeshot or two.

One common technique is to Grapeshot the opponent, putting all of the Storm copies on the stack, then Remanding the Grapeshot so as to further build the Storm and give you another copy of Grapeshot to cast. Remember, just because you Remanded the original doesn’t mean the Storm copies aren’t still going to hit.

Pyromancer’s Swath is obviously for mondo-combo time, and makes the Grapeshots do triple. Since Grapeshot is the only burn in the deck, we aren’t using Spinerock Knoll, but it is an option to consider. Mind’s Desire is certainly one of the best possible cards to reveal from under a hideaway land.

A nice feature that this deck contains is a little built-in resilience to Gaddock Teeg and Ethersworn Canonist. I suspect both of these Storm hosers will be quite popular at the Pro Tour, and Grapeshot gives you several answers. Remember, a Mox or a Bloom will let Grapeshot kill Canonist.

I don’t like this build as much as the Ad Nauseam and Plunge builds, as it doesn’t go off reliably enough for my tastes. Still, it is possible that there are lessons to be learned from it that can be applied to other Storm decks, such as possibly including Remand or Grapeshot in a Tendrils kill deck.

While there are many powerful combinations in Extended, one of the most powerful is the devastating Swans of Bryn Argoll / Chain of Plasma combo. I have mentioned it a couple of times in the past month, but it bears repeating. This combo is brutal. With only two cards and only six mana, a player can draw his entire library, killing at will (such as with Lightning Storm, Seismic Assault, or the classic Conflagrate).

There are a variety of ways to exploit this combination, ranging from Glittering Wish toolbox decks to Draw-Go decks with a combo kill that are almost invoke memories of High Tide. You can just counter some spells, hang out, and draw some cards. All of sudden, you “go off.”

Here is one approach to Plasma-Swan that I think is particularly interesting, since it does not try to compete with Storm deck’s speed. Rather, plays a sort of control strategy that buys it the time needed to assemble the lethal two-card kill.

The basic idea is to buy yourself time while you dig to a Swan and a Chain of Plasma. One you have a window, you shoot your Swan and draw three. Then, you can discard a card to put another copy of Chain on the stack. Repeat this until you draw as many cards as you need. Once you have your deck in your hand, play some Chrome Moxen, and cast Conflagrate dealing lethal.

Remember, it is typically best to discard the Conflagrate to your Chain mid-combo. You will need to have enough cards in your library to actually kill your opponent or face severe embarrassment. Just remember to count your library before going off and determine if you can actually win in one shot, or if you need to just draw your library and take total control of the game with a fistful of countermagic.

Every card you discard will give you three new cards, so you will be able to deal about 2x / 3 + y damage to your opponent, where x equals the number of cards in your library, and y equals the number of cards you started with. You have to draw cards in increments of three, though, so be careful. Also, it is an option to aim some additional Chain of Plasmas at the opponent (including the last copy of the one aimed at your Swan).

When calculating how much damage you can deal, remember to account for if you need to play any Chrome Moxen, which obviously will reduce your hand size by two cards apiece.

There is nothing wrong with setting up a situation where you draw your library and sit on a hand of two Pact of Negations, a Remand, a Mana Leak, a Spell Snare, a Cryptic Command, and another Chain of Plasma or some such.

One nice feature of this combination is that it has natural resilience to some of the most popular and powerful forms of hate in the format. Gaddock Teeg is almost worthless against this strategy, and even if he was relevant, you have many several answers to him.

The Ethersworn Canonist seems like he would be relevant, but is easily disposed of by aiming the last copy of Chain of Plasma at it. Yeah, he doesn’t stop Chain copies from forming. Worthless.

While Raven’s Crime is very strong against Storm strategies, by not allowing them a chance to reach critical mass, it is much weaker against Plasma-Swan… since you can make them discard five cards, and the last two will still kill you.

To be fair, though, if you can ever knock your opponent completely out of cards, Raven’s Crime is a solid lock against Plasma-Swan, as they will never be able to assemble the two-card combo at the same time beyond putting out a Swan and hoping it lives.

On the flip side, Thoughtseize-type effects are still very solid against Plasma-Swan, particularly if backed up by a clock. If you just knock part of the combo out of their hand, your Goyf or whatever will bash them over and over while they sit there with a fist full of countermagic.

There are a variety of ways that you can interact with the Plasma-Swan player, ranging from Putrefy to Slaughter Pact to Everlasting Torment to Molten Rain, but they have enough permission and card draw to put up a decent amount of fight against any sort of disruption, and bullets are not really the answer.

The best approach to beating the Plasma-Swan player is to put a reasonable clock on them while providing any sort of disruption. They are a turn 5 kill deck anyway. A little disruption on your part, and your turn 2 Tarmogoyf could go the distance.

You want an example of just the sort of strategy I am discussing? Here is a Doran build that offers a respectable clock and enough disruption to give it game versus combo decks. Personally, I am not a fan of this style of play, but it always seems to have a loyal following. For what it’s worth, remember: this is not a Rock deck. It is a Junk deck. Read a book, playa, read a mana-barbing book!

The basic idea is the same as all Junk decks. You deploy big monsters, with a little disruption suite, backed with some removal and a small amount of card advantage.

Most of the cards are fairly self-explanatory. Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Doran, Eternal Witness, and Kitchen Finks are among the very best creatures in the game’s history, let alone the format.

Thoughtseize, Smother, and Putrefy are all classic support cards with a variety of applications. They help with the general theme of “sixty good cards.” Profane Command is particularly interesting, as it is just as exciting bomb as it was in Standard earlier this year, albeit much slower. The neat thing about it is that it returns Tarmogoyf or Dark Confidant to play, with value, with a minimal investment. The sick synergy with Eternal Witness is not to be overlooked.

Tidehollow Sculler is a nice new addition that helps ease the pain from the loss of Vindicate and Cabal Therapy. Mesmeric Fiend saw play despite being only a 1/1, and this guy is a pretty solid upgrade. One nice little synergy with the Sculler is that he gives you an artifact that can easily make its way into your graveyard, helping ensure your Tarmogoyfs are at least 5/6.

The sideboard is mostly designed to target Affinity, Storm, and Zoo, which I anticipate to be among the most prevalent strategies. A number of the cards have crossover appeal that can give you options for match-ups you hadn’t anticipated.

There is a huge $5,000 StarCityGames.com Standard Open October 24th — October 26th in Richmond coming up. It is the first major Standard tournament since the inception of Shards of Alara. It promises to be a great tournament, and it is going to be exciting seeing new Shards cards in action.

I will be in Berlin for the Pro Tour, so unfortunately I won’t be able to attend. However, if I could, here is what I would play tomorrow…

I have been continuing the trend towards bringing down the mana-curve. There are so many insane three-drops in this format… you can’t actually play them all, or they start turning into four-drops.

For instance, I think Sprouting Thrinax is a very powerful creature. However, too often he was either unable to be played on turn 3, or he was not played on turn 3 simply because I had something else to play.

Bant Charm was even harder for me to cut back. I love the card, and maintain that it is a versatile tool that will be used for as long as it is in Standard and Extended. That said, it is still the wrong spot on the curve, and its functions can be replicated by other cards. For instance, part of what I was trying to accomplish with the Bant Charm can be handled by Condemn, which obviously helps with the curve.

I am still using a couple of Bant Charms, as it is solid removal, a reasonable tool against Cryptic Command, and it is nice to have a couple of answers to random stuff like Loxodon Warhammer.

The move towards Negates/Remove Soul is a combination wanting to bring down the mana curve, as well as the fact that Broken Ambitions just sucks. I like Negate better than Remove Soul, as I already have plenty of answers to creatures and want more protection from things like Cryptic Command and Cruel Ultimatum (not to mention Bitterblossom). Still, Remove Soul particularly shines against Reveillark, and is always nice versus Mistbind Clique, Spellstutter Sprite, and Mulldrifter.

As far as Cruel Ultimatum itself goes, I am not trying to hype it any more than the hype it is already receiving. I would play Mind Shatter. I might play Mind Spring. It so obviously obsoletes both. Trying to argue with players about its strength is like arguing with a Bucket Chatbot. When you do it, who is really the fool?

That said, it is a seven-mana sorcery, so it is conceivable that there will come a time in the format where it is just too hostile a metagame for such a card. Still, I don’t think that time has come. Besides, I really enjoy casting Cruel Ultimatum, and that is worth points in my book.

The sideboard has a variety of tools to combat strategies ranging from various forms of aggro to Five-Color Control to Faeries.

Flashfreeze is cute, in that it counters a wider range of spells, especially now that there are so many gold and hybrid cards in the format. It is useful against everything from Cruel Ultimatum to Rafiq of the Many to Kitchen Finks to Sarkhan Vol to Flame Javelin.

Resounding Wave is interesting mirror match technology. You get into these situations where both players are just building up mana, and once you have seven, neither player wants to get tapped out.

Resounding Wave really shines here, as it is an uncounterable way to disrupt your opponent’s manabase (particularly on Vivid lands) and produce virtual card advantage, not to mention cantrip. Also, as a Boomerang, it is not bad.

Evan Erwin already brought up the sideboard greatness of Memory Plunder, and he is not joking. The ability to copy Cryptic Command is worth it. Copying Cruel Ultimatum is plain wrong.

Jace Beleren is still a great tactical weapon against control decks. It is cheap enough that you can often get it to stick, but it is powerful enough to provide a game winning advantage.

There is no question that this deck is a work in progress, and it will continue to evolve as the format is explored. One of the most important things to remember about Five-Color Control is that you have the capability to reshape the deck to meet whatever the format throws at it, but you have to actually do this or you will be left behind as everyone in the room guns for you.

You have access to literally any casting cost you want, so feel free to try anything and everything. Nothing is off limits. All you have to do is look at whatever is popular or giving you trouble, and figure out what card or cards are doing well against it. Then adopt those cards as your own. If we were playing Team Constructed, I have no doubt that we could build three separate copies of Five-Color Control with no overlap (though at their core they really are Cryptic Command/Reflecting Pool decks).

I am sure a variety of decks will do well at the StarCityGames $5k open, but one thing is for sure: several Five-Color Control decks will perform. Good luck, to those of you going.

I am taking off for Kansas City this week, and from there it is straight to Berlin to test with Bucher, Wafo-tapa, Cheon, and LSV. Wish me luck at both, and be sure to tune in to my columns, as I will still be coming to you direct.

Before I go, can I make a small request…?

BPM and Gerry T, I would love to see a collaboration between you two. That is the States primer I want to read!

Friday? Monday? Who knows when I will see you next. I’m outie. So check me.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”