When the bannings rolled around, the Extended format took a long deep breath and said,”So this is what a normal environment is supposed to look like?” Yes, there are still combo decks floating around, and it will only be a matter of time before it all breaks down again and more bannings are needed, but once the Extended rotation rolls around, I think the format will become quite stable. If you look at all the problem cards, they are usually older cards, before R&D had the resources to fully understand everything they were printing. When they printed Goblin Recruiter, for instance, I don’t imagine they ever thought they would have to ban it.
But then again, they probably thought they wouldn’t have to ban the Juggernaut either. Yeah, that guy rocks. Walls, look out!
Somehow, when all the dust settled over Extended, the metagame looked something like a mixture of the old Block format and Standard, with the Rock thrown in there for good measure. I swear, Sol Malka’s place in Magic history will be his deck name choosing skills, considering the Rock looks almost nothing like it did at first, but yet remains the Rock.
Besides the creature features that you might expect from the format (Rock, RDW, U/G), there is one control deck that seems to have scared all the other control decks away. Scepter Tog is a very powerful deck, combining the ability that Tog had to gain control of the game very quickly with a Psychatog, and the powerful Isochron Scepter engine. Some people might think that the Scepter deck might be better without the Togs, but I would argue the other way around.
While Scepter makes for a powerful effect, it also gives your opponent a target to attack – a weakness. Normally, when someone tries to metagame against a Tog deck, they only have two possible things to attack – the Tog or the mana. It is difficult to fight a mana battle, although some decks choose to fight the hard fight with a one shot mana killer like Mana Short, while something like RDW might go for a more permanent solution like simply blowing it all up. Either way, it makes for a difficult situation since you really can’t make this work for you until Tog has enough permission to stop it.
If they choose to target your Tog, they might have an easier time of it, but you will find that Tog is not as vulnerable as it looks. You pretty much need a Pernicious Deed, Smother, or an Edict to get rid of them, and Deed is usually the only four-of card in any reasonable deck. This means that a little bit of counter-magic can protect the Tog, or you can just play a second Tog.
Having Scepters in the deck changes things a bit. Now people can use artifact removal to take out a big chunk of your game plan – this is coming off of a format where everyone and their brother was playing artifact removal to combat the Tinker beast, and a lot of it is residually left in the sideboard. Rock can Deed or cast Living Wish for Uktabi Orangutan, and RDW has Pillage. This doesn’t mean that the Scepter version is a weaker deck, but rather it needs to be more careful.
For those of you who aren’t at all familiar with Scepter Tog, the deck basically plays out by countering your opponent’s threats with countermagic, Fire / Ice, or by having Psychatog out there as a blocker. It eventually wins by putting a complete shut down on your opponent with Scepter imprinted with a good spell, or just attacking for twenty with a Psychatog (usually via Cunning Wish for Corpse Dance from the sideboard). It is surprising how quickly you can get a Psychatog to deal twenty damage.
At any rate, the debate among many Scepter Tog players seems to be: bust the Scepter out or no? Meaning, should they cast it as quickly as possible, therefore getting more use out of it and risking it being killed, or should they bide their time and wait until they can protect it? In my experience, the answer to this often depends on what is going on. However, if it is the first turn of the game and you are going first with a Mox in your hand – you better bust that bad boy out. There isn’t much they can do on turn 1 that will stop it.
Here are your Scepter targets in order of preference:
Some people might argue that other targets are better. I think that there is no better feeling in the world then making your opponent cast two spells that matter in order to get one through. As long as you can keep a second counter in your hand, this is pretty much game over, provided you have four mana available.
Fire / Ice
This is the most versatile of targets – it allows you to tap things and draw cards, and also kill creatures or even try to burn your opponent out if they are at a low life total (although usually its better to draw cards).
The only reason this card ranks above Brainstorm is the fact that often you will be drawing more than one card off of the AK. Sometimes you will be drawing four, if you are lucky enough to Intuition for three more… just be sure not to deck yourself!
You would be surprised how amazing it is to have the ability to Brainstorm every turn. Part of the reason why this card is so good is because of all of the great shuffling effects you have in the deck like the fetchlands and the Intuitions. When you are always looking at the top three, it doesn’t take long to find one good one. This is also the reason why you should wait as long as possible before sacrificing those fetchlands!
This is no Counterspell. While this works well for a while, you will find that your opponent simply builds up mana and then starts casting spells. Good to stall, but not great for winning the game. I would rather hold the Scepter and wait for something better most of the time rather than putting this on it.
Don’t do it. Just don’t.
Here is a snapshot of the metagame – while it isn’t all the decks in the metagame (the Extended metagame I wide open right now with decks like Opposition even being in the mix). They are listed in order of approximate popularity.
Red Deck Wins
Misc. Combo Decks
If you added up all the strange combo decks they would probably represent more of the metagame than Dump Truck, but on their own they represent less. Those combo decks include, but are not limited to: Desire, Scepter Chant, Aluren, Life, Dracoplosion and Rector based decks.
Tog vs. Rock is somewhat interesting. While you might think that the Control deck will crush the aggro-control deck, Rock has a surprising way of staying in the game, even if the match-up is slightly unfavorable towards it. It might have something to do with the three hundred-odd disruption spells that Rock has, but hey, I don’t know – it could be anything.
Rock has the problem of not punishing you very much for being the slower deck – this will give you time to establish control of the game. The cards you really have to watch for are Pernicious Deed, Smother, and Diabolic Edict. Normally it wouldn’t be too much trouble to fend off, but when they rip your hand apart, it can be rough going.
The key to the match-up is your card drawing power. Resolving multiple Fact or Fictions will surely be game over. Try to get an AK on your Scepter and Intuition for AK’s, but don’t expect your Scepter to live for very long. If you can bust out a quick Scepter with Counterspell, it will make your life a lot easier. Putting Fire/Ice on a Scepter if fine too, since you can take out lots of one-toughness creatures and still draw cards to negate the disruption.
In the first game, if you get to a point where they don’t have much offensive power and you think you can hold the beats, Cunning Wishing for Orim’s Chant can be the game. You won’t be able to kick it, but it is likely that they will not have an answer in their maindeck if you do it every upkeep (besides maybe massing Treetop Village).
Vs. Red Deck Wins
This deck has always been a one card deck: Tangle Wire. Just stop the Wire. Don’t let it get you, because once you let one through, there always seems to be another Tangle Wire just hanging out in there hand ready to smack you upside the head. I would feel safer getting hit by two Jackal Pups than letting Tangle Wire resolve. At least I could block the pups with a Tog – or better yet Fire them.
In essence, this match-up is all about keeping your life total high. RDW has to try and hit you for a little and try to burn you out the rest of the way, turning their mediocre burn spells into must-counter threats. Since you don’t have a lot of countermagic, try to avoid this by using your Fire/Ice wisely. It is far better to have a Scepter with Fire/Ice than anything else in this match-up, since you can take out the deadly Blistering Firecat and draw a card.
Vs U/G Madness
This match-up can be tough. U/G is good at one thing – putting out a constant stream of solid threats, and then giving them flying with Wonder. While Tog is good at dealing with threats – Wild Mongrel has similar staying power as the Tog, and when they get flying, that will probably be the game. This is one of those match-ups where you are certainly going to want to bring those Smothers in from the board. Just try to do what you can to deal with their threat cards – keeping your life total high isn’t a priority as long as you are dealing with their threats. Usually when this deck wins, it is because they discarded Wonder and are attacking you for thirty-six anyhow.
Counter the madness outlets. If you are able to counter their first two Madness outlets, you will be golden because it just slows them down too much – use those Dazes! While U/G seems to function smoothly, if you take the Mongrel or Aquamoeba out of the equation, you will find that they are just stuck with Roar of the Wurms and Arrogant Wurms in their hand with nothing to do. I think putting countermagic on the Scepter goes up in value here, to the point where Mana Leak might be better than Fire/Ice. Madness will just have problems saving up enough mana to pay for Mana Leak – they never like having more than four in play.
Ah, the mirror. This will be about who can hold onto their AK’s the longest. Don’t cast that sucker until you really need to, otherwise you are just giving your opponent free cards. The game will almost always just come down to a big counter war over AK. The Togs can try to bash each other, but it generally gets nowhere. The whole match is about who can resolve Fact or Fiction and the biggest AK. Mana Short is a great Cunning Wish target besides Fact or Fiction, since you can start the counter war on their turn and use up their mana, then do your thing when you untap.
Vs. Dump Truck
This match-up is bad news for Tog. Dump Truck was built to back up over the metagame, and that is pretty much what it does. I am not quite sure how cards like Exalted Angel and Shadowmage Infiltrator get the job done – but somehow they manage. Stick to your guns here, try to get out a quick Scepter. Tog really won’t do that much for you in this match-up except block and die to Edicts. As with Rock, just try to draw a lot of cards to slog through their disruption, but don’t expect a whole lot to go well for you. This is another good Smother Match-up.
Vs. Misc. Combo Decks
Busting out a quick Scepter with a counter is good, but it isn’t always the right play. Lots of combo decks have decent answers to this type of play, so having a Fire/Ice or Brainstorm on there might be better, since it will keep them guessing as to how much countermagic you have when they try to go off, and it will hurt their mana supply, making it more difficult. The Fire side is more useful than it might seem as well, since some of the combo decks floating around have some creatures as a vital piece of their fare. Just keep them at bay, play a Tog when you can (or very early, if you think you can get away with tapping out without dying). That Tog gets lethal rather quickly…
Remember, Scepter Tog is a control deck – yeah, it has a gimmick, but in essence it is still solid control. It should be played much like regular Tog was. Whenever you are in doubt as to what the correct play is, just think what you can do in order to thwart your opponent’s threats and create a lethal Tog. This is one of the better deck choices in the new Extended, and should not be taken lightly.