Innovations – The First Waves of a New Extended

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Monday, July 20th – Patrick takes a break from competitive Standard testing to examine the new Extended format coming soon. He looks at a number of high-profile strategies, and updates the relevant builds around their gains and losses from the rotation of new and old sets. He also brings us a bonus Standard decklist, just in time for Nationals!

It is funny to look back on Pro Tour: Berlin and consider everything I saw with the wisdom that has been gained over the past 9 months. Time has a curious way of changing one’s perception.

I remember in the week before the PT, I was staying in a hostel with Manuel Bucher, LSV, and Paul Cheon, one floor above the Ruels and the Guillaumes (Wafo-tapa and Matignon). Most of our testing revolved around the Elves combo deck that everyone pretended that they were the only people with (because obviously, people would never prepare for a major Magic tournament with combo Elves and tell themselves that they are the only people with it again…).

I was tuning a Gifts deck that I had been working on, but everyone else was playing Elves except Wafo. Wafo-tapa just kept playing his U/x Faeries deck, despite the laughs from everyone else.

Spellstutter Sprite without Bitterblossom? Ancestral Visions in Extended? Glen Elendra Archmage? Four Vendilion Cliques? Cryptic Commands?

“Wafo! Are you crazy?! Your deck is fine against Elves, but how can you beat Affinity?”

“You do it for me.”

Obviously, it is amusing that our Elves combo decks and Glittering Wish for Fracturing Gust decks were doing the dirty work for Wafo, ensuring that the Affinity players got squeezed out, but we couldn’t help but think he was too obsessed with control decks. Mono-U Faeries (or splashing Red for Firespout?) seemed crazy.

Just a few short months later, Nassif and his squad showed the world just how far Wafo’s ideas could be pushed, and the entire format evolved. Suddenly, Mono-U Faeries was the deck to beat, and people had trouble remembering how Combo Elves had ever been the deck that was going to have “multiple cards banned.”

Eventually, masters like Tomoharu Saito evolved Domain Zoo into the new entity, Naya Zoo, and that was the realization of the promises made by Wild Nacatl at the beginning of the season. The new Naya Zoo deck was able to compete with both Combo Elves and the Mono-U Faeries deck that had been created to defeat them.

As the format came to a close, there was a balance, with Faeries and Naya Zoo performing best, but Elves making a comeback and various new decks each having a day in the sun, such as Slide, TEPS, Swans, Affinity, and B/G/w. Since that time, Alara Reborn and M10 have introduced some new cards to the mix, with the biggest impact being felt from the addition of the Cascade mechanic. While I fully expect Bloodbraid Elf to have an impact that probably even surpasses Cryptic Command’s influence, it is actually the cheapest Cascade spells – Ardent Plea, Violent Outburst, and Demonic Dread – that have made the biggest waves.

While the idea of Cascading into Ancestral Visions, Restore Balance, and Wheel of Fate is tempting, it is actually the Green uncastable spell that is drawing the most attention. As you have surely heard by now, the Cascade mechanic is being pushed to the limits in Extended, being used in decks with no spells that cost less than 3 except Hypergenesis.

Here is an example.

The idea is relatively simple. Play a quick Cascade spell and you will always hit Hypergenesis. Since it is usually right around turn 2 or 3, the extraordinary permanents you get to drop are usually game-winning.

The deck is lightning fast, no question, but I am not really sure how it ever beats Faeries. I guess plenty of people have had that weakness before and done well, but still. Obviously the big joke is that it is hard to sideboard in Extended without using any spells that cost less than three mana.

Chalice of the Void, Ethersworn Canonist, Trickbind, Spell Burst, Rule of Law, Meddling Mage, and more means that there is a ton of cheap, effective hate available. My prediction? Hypergenesis does not live up to the hype. It has too strong of a natural enemy in Faeries, and too many ways to take advantage of its deck construction drawbacks.

Speaking of Faeries… How will the archetype evolve, once Onslaught block rotates? For reference, here is a typical example of current Faeries.

For the most part, the only notable change is going to be the loss of Riptide Laboratory. The problem is that this is one of the absolute best cards in the deck, and the card that the entire deck is built around. What can we do?

One possibility is to look at other decks that use most of these cards but do not focus as heavily on the Riptide Lab. Three possibilities spring to mind.

First, we may want to consider something more akin to the Standard Faeries decks, U/B Faeries with Bitterblossom, maybe Dark Confidant to gain an advantage, even Mistbind Clique could be sweet here. This is probably the most obvious and easiest to make work on account of the easy manabase.

The next option is a Next Level Blue style design, with Tarmogoyf, Path to Exile, Firespout, and less of a Faerie theme. I think this may be very promising, though without fetchlands, the manabase is going to require some clever innovation.

Finally, we could consider a Gifts deck, something like my Gifts-Faeries deck, which never really took that big advantage of the Lab. The downside here is that losing the cycling lands cripples the Gifts-Loam engine.

This is, of course, just one possible direction to take Faeries, but since most of the key cards are still around, it is pretty clear that some sort of Faeries strategy will be one of the defining decks of the format. This is made especially true because of the emergence of Hypergenesis, as we discussed earlier.

Another possible direction:

To really appreciate the changes that the format will experience, we have to look at the impact of the rotation on all of the popular decks. What about the Elvish boogeyman (that seems to be trying to take over Standard without people even noticing)?

Elves loses Wirewood Symbiote and Wirewood Hivemaster, so it is going to have to adopt some new tricks, possibly taking a page out of the Standard playbook. Will it be Ranger of Eos? More Regal Forces? Primal Commands? Commune with Nature? Mosswart Bridge? Elvish Archdruid? It is tough to say off the top of my head, and I am sure it is going to be heavily dependent on what other strategies emerge. Is Elves a turn 3 kill deck, or is it supposed to be a turn 4 kill deck? I wonder what impact on Extended will be felt after all the chips are down this weekend at U.S. Nationals, and we really see what people think about Elves these days.

One of the other pillars of the metagame, Zoo, loses Fetchlands, which most likely cripples its ability to be a Domain build. Since Naya Zoo is better anyway, let’s look at it. It also loses Fetchlands, which are not actually missed that much, though it should also be noted that Mogg Fanatic being much weaker is relevant too.

The primary problem with a deck like this is that it is intrinsically weak against the current “It Girl” (as Michael J Flores would say). This version haphazardly has 4 Ethersworn Canonists thrown in to give it a shot versus Hypergenesis, but it is not really where you want to be. Still, there are cards that exist to help here. In fact, simply sideboarding 4 Chalice of the Voids will probably go a very long way towards helping this (and any deck for that matter). The only flaw is that they are boarding Ingot Chewers for your Canonists anyway.

B/G or B/G/w Loam loses Fetchlands, Smother, Barren Moor, Tranquil Thicket, etc. The deck wasn’t that strong to begin with, so losing most of the strength behind its card draw engine leaves me with very little love for the strategy. Horizon Canopy is a possibility, and I guess so is Gargoyle Castle, but it would seem that moving away from Loam and towards a more Junk style aggro deck would be the move to make.

I am really not sure, as there are a lot of possibilities. I know that Doran hasn’t really lost that much, so it is an interesting place to look.

Swans loses Chain of Plasma, in addition to the usual fetchlands. Perhaps this will be another page from the Standard playbook, with a move towards Cascade Swans. The problem with this is that it is surely at LEAST a full turn slower than Hypergenesis, and not particularly resilient to Faeries. On the upside, at least you can put your combo onto the battlefield when your opponent plays Hypergenesis and just win in response to their enters the battlefield abilities.

Mono Red Burn loses Sulfuric Vortex, which has no easy replacement. To be fair, it is also possible that it won’t be missed. In my experience, there are many times where Mono-R takes full advantage of the Vortex, but there are just as many times where it is actively bad. It is one of the worst cards when you’re behind, you know? Maybe you can just replace it with Lightning Bolt.

Slide loses Fetchlands, Cycling Lands, Spark Spray, Lightning Rift, Astral Slide, Slice and Dice, and more. I think it is fair to say that none of the Life from the Loam strategies can continue without adopting some new direction, some new engine to make up for the loss of cycling lands. Slide is obviously an extreme case, as the core cards that make up the engine this decks uses are going to rotate out too. This deck is dead, but will be replaced by some sort of R/W/G midrange/board control deck.

All-in Red has not really suffered any losses, so it is still just as much an option as it always was, though you should make sure to build it with 4 maindeck Chalices, based on the way the format looks right now. Blood Moons are actually fairly good ways to fight Hypergenesis as well. In fact, AIR might be a better choice than ever, though obviously this is not the sort of deck I want to play.

Affinity is another strategy that will be favored initially on account of not losing anything. The downside is actually that because so many strategies have lost so much, Affinity will once again be thrust into the front of the crowd, drawing Kataki, Grudge, and so on to the top of people’s sideboard lists.

The upside is that, unlike with Elves, Hypergenesis can actually be combated with cards that mesh with Affinity. For instance, Ethersworn Canonist is a fine fit outright, and sideboarding Chalices is an option, as is Trickbind, Meddling Mage, and more.

Anyway, I’ve gotta go pack. Defending National Champion Michael Jacob just called, and I have to go pick him up. I guess we are driving to Kansas City today to meet up with LSV, GerryT, and a number of other masters to do some last-minute playtesting for Nationals. Should be a good time.

See you guys next week.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

Bonus Standard Decklist (Though obviously I am just playing Cruel Ultimatum, Cryptic Command, and Reflecting Pool).