With Worlds safely behind us and Wizards announcing no changes to the Extended banned list, it is time to start looking at the approaching PTQ season. This is a prime opportunity to qualify for the Pro Tour in beautiful Honolulu.
What is the deck to play? I think that varies from person to person, as there are a number of good strategies right now. The more important factor is knowing your deck, as well as how to approach each matchup, how to sideboard, and what new innovations you come up with.
With a format as deep and diverse as Extended is right now, I highly recommend most PTQ players pick a strategy and stick to it, as long as they think it is still viable. I mean, if you just really think you would be better off switching, go ahead, but honestly, the experience you gain from playing the same strategy week in and week out will give you such an edge over the other players who have not had as much practice with their deck.
There are many strategies to talk about this season, as the format is radically different from the last Extended PTQ season, as rotations, the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top, Pr Tour: Berlin, and Worlds have all had great impact on it.
Today, I would like to start by looking at the deck I played in the Extended portion of World’s with.
Manuel Bucher helped me brew this one up, obviously inspired by my Berlin deck you can read about HERE. While we feel the deck was decent, neither of us loved it, whereas we knew we had a winner with our Standard deck. Still, at the end of the day, it is what we ran, delivering mediocre results that were not terrible but not exciting.
The basic concept behind this deck is that Gifts Ungiven will beat most decks by itself, so we just needed to tune the list to beat Elves! and Zoo. In the end, we produced a deck that certainly does well against Zoo and Elves, but isn’t quite consistent enough for our tastes, plus the Gifts are great against most random decks, but not total game over cards, at least not often enough.
Do I still think this concept has potential? Sure, as there are a lot of nice things going on with this deck, but it might be trying a little too hard. For instance, is this really a better Gifts deck than Tron?
Some interesting lessons from this deck:
1. Deathmark is really good. It kills Nettle Sentinel, Wirewood Symbiote, Tarmogoyf, Wild Nacatl, Gaddock Teeg, Tidehollow Sculler, Doran the Siege Tower, Ethersworn Canonist, Figure of Destiny, Deus of Calamity, Swans of Bryn Argoll, Vexing Shusher, Rhox War Monk, and so on.
2. Sun Droplet is unreal good against Burn, but is also great against Zoo. With cards like Threads, Tarmogoyf, and Deathmark, it is very realistic to completely halt the creature assault of a Zoo deck, leaving them with Tribal Flames and Lightning Helix to try to burn you out with. Sun Droplet does so much.
3. Threads is SO good against Zoo. It may not really be that great against most other decks, but man is it good against Zoo. It is surprisingly playable against Elves, but man, nothing beats Threadsing a Goyf. Just be aware that some Zoo players have the R/W Hedge-mage these days.
4. Annul is a great sideboard card, right now. It is just such a nice way to fight Tron, Bitterblossom, Jitte, Shackles, Affinity, Explosives, Threads, Chalice, Canonist, Sculler, Sulfuric Vortex, Blood Moon, Lotus Bloom, Oblivion Ring, Fecundity, maybe even a Chrome Mox.
5. Spell Burst is very solid right now, as Spell Blast is just such a playable card in a format dominated by Glimpse of Nature, Summoner’s Pact, and so on. The ability to buy it back is just gravy. I found it a superior counter to Voidslime in this format, and if you have access to lots of color lands, such as with Tron, then it is not even close.
6. A control deck has to have a plan against lands like Riptide Lab, Mutavault, Urza’s Power Plant, and Academy Ruins. Ghost Quarter obviously works well with Loam, and Blood Moon is nice if you can support it, but I am just saying you must have a plan if you are trying to establish control, otherwise insane lands like these will just destroy you.
7. Extirpate is hot right now. Aside from being a realistic way to fight Dredge (this season’s Dredge deck is much more vulnerable to having their Bridges or Dread Returns Extirpated), it has fantastic value against Tron (often Extirpating Urza’s Tower or Sundering Titan after a Gifts or in response to a Mannequin/Academy Ruins activation). In addition, it is one of the best cards in the format against Loam and Worm Harvest, not to mention how backbreaking it can be against Swans. It can even work well against Storm when combined with a Thoughtseize. This is a card that should be played a lot more than it is, and I will be using it more in the months to come.
Well, if I didn’t think we broke the format this time around, what was my favorite deck from Worlds? I think the greatest deckbuilder of all time, Gabriel Nassif, wins this time around. Nassif Blue carried a number of people to strong records, including helping Jamie Parke make Top 8 at another Pro Tour (who I think may have broken my record for longest gap between Top 8s…)
Many people refer to this style of deck as Mono-Blue Faeries, when in reality it is just as much a Wizard deck as a Faerie deck. In fact, Mark Herberholz has continued to work on the deck since Worlds and says Trinket Mage may be the next step.
The engine that makes this deck work involves the Riptide Labs. This amazing Onslaught land combines with amazing comes-into-play abilities to provide a never-ending stream of Coercions, card filtering, Counterspells, Capsizes, and unkillable threats, particularly the uncounterable Mutavault.
The deck is deceptively strong, as it is not just synergistic, but amazingly consistent. It doesn’t get mana screwed as often as many Extended decks on account of being mono-color, and it doesn’t get flooded as often since so many of its lands generate action.
There is a lot of inherent card advantage, ranging from draw like Thirst for Knowledge, to two-for-ones like Threads and Spellstutter Sprite, to Engines like the Lab, Jitte, and Shackles. Even cards like Repeal (on Chrome Mox, or with damage on the stack or with Spellstutter) or Vendilion Clique (when you have dead cards in hand) can provide virtual or literal card advantage.
This deck just attacks from so many angles. It has permission, card advantage, Control Magics, high tempo plays, plenty of annoying threats, and lots of room to outplay your opponent. While I normally like being trickier than this deck can manage, I really respect its beautiful construction and consistent results. There are some really nice things going on with this deck, and it has tools against most strategies.
Its advocates point to reasonable edges over Zoo and Elves, as well as a consistent game plan against most strategies. Nassif Blue may have rough match-ups against All-In-Red or Affinity, but its advocates claim that it is probable you will never face these opponents. U/B Faeries and U/B Tron may also have an edge, but again, neither matchup is unwinnable.
Personally, my natural inclination is make the deck a bit trickier. The first thing that comes to mind is the addition of Black. It just seems like the splash will break open the mirror, plus there are Black sideboard cards I really like, such as Extirpate and Bitterblossom. The other thing is that Nassif Blue doesn’t draw enough cards for my taste. Dark Confidant is an obvious solution, and it happens to be a wizard.
While I will cover many, many decks today, I have neglected U/B Faeries as it is similar to Mono-Blue, as well as Tezzeret (which I feel is a bad Faerie deck).
One thing I always find useful when beginning to look at a new season that is built on an existing format is to try to put together a good gauntlet of decks that give me an idea of what other people are up to. I think it is so important to know thy enemy.
Speaking of the enemy…
This was the best performing Zoo deck in the tournament, which was the second most popular archetype behind various Faerie decks. There was actually surprisingly little variety in the Zoo decks this time around. While some used Tidehollow Sculler, Figure of Destiny, Incinerate, Blightning, and Bant Charm, for the most part, every successful Zoo deck was within 2-6 cards of this one.
You must be able to compete with this deck, as it is proven and popular. A must for your gauntlet.
- 19 Mountain
This build of All-In-Red (Lucky Red, Demigod Stompy, etc) went undefeated and is a fairly standard build, with the only spice being the miser’s Shattering Spree and the maindeck Trinispheres. As you surely know by now, this deck is all about a big turn 1, try to play some threat or lock piece on turn 1 that can realistically win the game all by itself.
It is surprising to me how many pros just don’t test against this deck, despite its many high finishes in Magic League play, as well as respectable finishes in Berlin and now Worlds. Yes, it is often no fun to play with or against, as it often just wins games or loses games without a single interesting interaction or decision being made, but that is what the deck does.
Obviously this deck is not the height of consistency, but it does have a lot of Rituals and a lot of deadly threats, meaning that most hands will be able to produce some sort of potentially lethal threat turn 1.
The scariest play All-In-Red is typically able to produce on turn 1 is the Deus of Calamity, drawing concessions from many players before playing a single land, so as to not reveal their deck (they know they won’t be able to beat it anyway, so why give up the information?).
A good trick to remember is that you can lead with a fetchland so that when the Red Mage targets it with their Deus, you sacrifice it in response, allowing you to get to the critical second mana needed to play cards like Tarmogoyf, Spellstutter Sprite (to chump and save a land), Echoing Truth, or Terror.
I personally really like Echoing Truth right now. It is a versatile sideboard cards that is aggressively costed and good at solving tough problems. It also happens to stop every major threat All-In-Red can produce, whether they are Goblin tokens, a turn 1 five-drop, or even just to buy you a critical turn without a Blood Moon in play. This is a sideboard card you should be playing more. All-In-Red often folds if you deal with their one big play, and this card assures you an answer to whatever they are doing without being a totally wasted sideboard slot against other decks.
An interesting deck that is still a little off the radar but is deceptively solid is Dredge. While it is a poor imitation of its previous self, there is so little hate, it is still a reasonable choice.
- 1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
- 1 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 1 Golgari Thug
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 4 Magus of the Bazaar
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 2 Mulldrifter
- 2 Fatestitcher
This deck uses Glimpse the Unthinkable, Ideas Unbound, and Magus of the Bazaar to enable the Dredgers to start milling its library. Eventually Dread Return and Bridge from Below fueled by Narcomoebas and Fatestitcher win the game.
One of the cute tricks to watch for in this deck is the turn 1 Magus of the Bazaar, turn 2 activate during your upkeep and discard a Fatestitcher and a Dredger. Start dredging during your draw step and then during your mainphase, unearth the Fatestitcher and Magus again, milling the majority of your library.
Mulldrifter seems out of place to the untrained eye, but it is actually an incredible Dread Return target, milling so much of your library while also being a fine card to draw on its own, allowing you to keep dredging. Think of it as a pseudo Cephalid Sage that can be a bad Careful Study.
Obviously cards like Tormod’s Crypt and Leyline of the Void are unreal against this deck, but it is actually far more vulnerable to Extirpate than old Dredge decks, particularly naming Bridge from Below or Dread Return, though even Narcomoeba can be crippling.
In addition, this deck is extraordinarily vulnerable to Spell Snare and Countermagic in general. Without Cabal Therapy, it is really missing the disruptive element that made Dredge so frustrating last season.
In my opinion, this strategy is not tier 1, but is not to be underestimated.
One deck that is making a comeback (and very predictably so) is Affinity. Many players pronounced it dead after Berlin as a result of its inability to compete against Elves, but some savvy Affinity players have realized that now that everyone is packing Elf hate instead of Affinity hate, there is a good chance they will go an entire tournament without playing against an Elf deck or against a Kataki, War’s Wage.
The more interesting aspect of this deck is its sideboard. Spell Snares are common currency for Affinity, as the card is just great by its own merits, but happens to also counter much of the Affinity hate, such as Kataki, Grudge, and Hurkyl’s.
The Canonists and Slice and Dices are a strong attempt by the Affinity player to actually compete with Elves.
The Grudges are classic Affinity mirror match technology, with the theory being that against most matchups you won’t want to sideboard out much of the deck’s core, so you should just use sideboard cards that have the greatest impact when you do use them.
This might be a very good time to play Affinity, as it would appear that the pendulum has swung so far towards Faeries and other Blue decks, that it is a good time to lay it all on the line with Affinity which has a naturally strong match-up against the Fae.
Speaking of unfun decks, one strategy that many players continually overlook, but that always seems to survive is that of Spark Elemental.dec.
This deck can be frustrating to play against, but it is useful to view it as a combo deck that goes off turn 4. Its combo is typically 6 business spells resolving. When you first play against this deck, it can be mind-numbingly obnoxious, as you just keep getting burnt out before you can do anything, but there are basically a couple ways to fight it.
First, you can race. Most combo decks are just faster and Red can have a hard time competing. Alternatively, you can just put down a nice clock, like a Tarmogoyf and buy yourself a little time with cards like Spell Snare or Spellstutter Sprite. Also, life gain from Umezawa’s Jitter or Sun Droplet can be game winning.
There was a lot of talk before Worlds that U/B Tron was going to be a major player, but it really didn’t live up to the hype. It is a solid deck and can perform, but players may be asking too much of it, as it is difficult to make it beat Elves, Faeries, and Zoo at the same time.
This deck follows the classic Tron formula of card draw with a bit of defense, buying time to power out game winning Robots like Sundering Titan and Mindslaver. Annul, Blood Moon, Ghost Quarter, and Wild Nacatl are all particularly effective against Tron, as well as Storm, All-In-Red, Swans, and Affinity.
This deck’s great promise is that it matches up well against many of the most popular decks, but its greatest weakness is that it is not strong against many Tier 2 or Tier 1.5 strategies making it an exceptionally risky strategy for a PTQ.
This deck has a lot of really good things going for it, but would probably lose a lot of percentage should the field start packing hate. It is also fairly loose against Faeries, which will be a very popular choice at the top.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that G/B Death Cloud put up decent numbers. The archetype performing reasonably in Berlin as well, so perhaps there is something to it, but personally I am not impressed.
This deck follows a pretty classic Rock formula, combining Black disruption and removal with Green mana acceleration and undercosted creatures. The sideboard even comes packing ultra-hosey cards like Night of Souls’ Betrayal against Elves, Choke against Faeries, as well as Cranial Extraction and Pithing Needle.
I am not convinced of the numbers in this build, but it is a useful test deck, as it is fairly representative of the archetype. Other cards some B/G players used include Liliana Vess, Ravenous Baloth, Search for Tomorrow, and the Raven’s Crime/Loam/Worm Harvest package.
The following deck is nothing new, but can be a potent weapon to prey on a metagame that may have forgotten why we play Stifle.
One deck that I want to mention, despite my view that it is not a top choice, is Goblins. This deck snuck up on a lot of players who were not prepared for it at Worlds. You may never play against it, but if you should happen to, it is useful to know what they are up to.
- 4 Mogg Fanatic
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 2 Goblin Sharpshooter
- 4 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Skirk Prospector
- 4 Goblin Sledder
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 4 Wirewood Hivemaster
- 1 Viridian Shaman
- 4 Birchlore Rangers
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 1 Regal Force
- 1 Predator Dragon
- 4 Elvish Visionary
Somehow, people are going to forget just how disgusting the Elf deck is. Seriously, it is going to be like Dredge all over again, where people are aware of how insane the Elf deck is, but they will skimp on hate to gain edge in other matchups.
As a result, many players will qualify with Elves and the format will probably fluctuate a great deal throughout the season as players continually adapt to Elves, pushing Elves down, then skimping on hate to beat other anti-Elf players, allowing the Elf decks to return to dominance.
Faerie-based strategies will be one of the pillars of this format, but there is no question Elves will be the other. REMEMBER what Elves is! This deck is every bit as insane as it was in Berlin. The format may have compensated, but just like with Dredge, you can beat it if you try hard enough, but you actually have to try…
I personally think it is not a bad idea at all to attack these first few weekends of PTQs armed with Elves and just punish everyone who showed up expecting to play a real game. I think you should also try technology like Vexing Shusher, or possibly even Leyline of Lifeforce, to combat Faeries. Gaea’s Herald would be nice, as he is an Elf and takes no mana to operate, but he is just asking to be Spell Snared.
I am also not convinced that Chord is the right way to play Elves right now. I still like Weird Harvest and a storm spell, with no Hivemasters. The dream would be to find a good tutor to get Glimpse. If only Burning Wish was legal!
As far as beating Elves goes, I have found the best formula to be a lot of early disruption, such as Seal of Fire, Spellstutter Sprite, Deathmark, Thoughtseize, Engineered Explosives, Mana Tithe, and so on, followed by devastating plays such as Night of Souls’ Betrayal, Chalice of the Void, Triskelion, Ethersworn Canonist, Jitte, and Persecute.
It is so important to have a lot of good ways to interact. This deck is blisteringly fast and there aren’t zero mana “win the game” cards against it, like there is with Dredge.
What should you play this season? The format is wide open, but I hope this article will serve as a useful reference during your playtesting. You don’t have to beat everything, just the decks you actually play against.