Magical Hack – Extended, The Morning After

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Extended is a lively and interesting format, by all appearances… though some would add the caveat “if you like playing The Rock mirror match” to that, after the first two weeks of PTQs. The truly broken stuff you can do is held in check by the ease with which it can be attacked and by its overall inconsistency in the face of the excessive mulligans, and for the most part everyone is “playing fair” and interacting with their opponent in the first few turns.

Extended is a lively and interesting format, by all appearances… though some would add the caveat “if you like playing The Rock mirror match” to that, after the first two weeks of PTQs. The truly broken stuff you can do is held in check by the ease with which it can be attacked and by its overall inconsistency in the face of the excessive mulligans, and for the most part everyone is “playing fair” and interacting with their opponent in the first few turns. Even those that aren’t specifically fairing it up find that they have to be prepared to play fair, when a considerable chunk of the metagame is aiming Cabal Therapy at their noggin. While we can count trends in the first few weeks and see what is going on, the data is still pouring in on that. We only have two of the more-than-two Week 2 results in with decklists for the North American PTQs as tracked on MagicTheGathering.com, so our attempts to follow trends are at best hampered by the missing information.

Considering we can’t get an effective count to track trends for this weekend’s PTQ, the goal is to look two weeks further into the future to the next volley of PTQs, directly following the Morningtide release events at the start of the month. And for noting trends, it’s worth noting that with Doran Rock growing so prevalent as the “presumed best deck” we have seen a change in the kind of aggro decks we see in the elimination rounds. Week 1 we see Domain Zoo as the beatdown decks making the cut to elimination rounds, and losing to Doran Rock (at least in NYC); Week 2 we go to the next closest PTQ (Maryland) and the beatdown decks have morphed to Goblin decks and are doing well against the Rock decks. Consider pulling that trend forward into the future as people learn of it and start playing Goblin decks… then add to it a new set full of among other things goblins, as the second part of the “tribe matters” Lorwyn block. I was cracking some prerelease packs and opening nifty Goblin cards when I realized hey, these might just be good enough, and Earwig Squad especially got me excited. So the goal for today is to look through Morningtide for its potential impact on Extended, and try working on that perhaps-nifty Goblin deck and go from there.

In a world where you can play anything, however, you need something special to really stand out.

Preeminent Captain
Creature – Kithkin Soldier
First strike.
Whenever Preeminent Captain attacks, you may put a Soldier creature card from your hand into play tapped and attacking.

Preeminent Captain is the only White card to make that distinction in my eyes for Extended; there are a lot of expensive cards that just don’t get any consideration, even if they are going to have an impressive home in Standard. The Captain here is cheap enough to see play on your second turn if you want to play Moxes, a reasonable prospect for an aggressive weenie deck that is likely to have the glut of two-drops White is famous for. The Captain gets you an amazing discount, as just a single attack gives a full card’s worth of mana back to you and a full turn’s worth of time saved in bringing it out and attacking, since its buddy comes in alongside him with fists swinging. Extended asks you how many Soldiers you want to play anyway, and with as many sets as we’ve seen the answer can be a pretty hefty number of candidates that suggest the Captain might be put to good use. And unlike the prior set’s “Kithkin” tribe enablers, this guy cares about a creature type that crosses color boundaries, and comes with a single colored mana in his cost to help slide him into a deck alongside as many as four other colors’ worth of Soldiers to play nice with.

I can’t see myself wanting to do this now — at least one other tribe has caught my eye, and a second has received more help as we’ll see soon enough — but it’s one of those things to consider as this is a very powerful effect. Even a “fixed” Goblin Lackey is worth thinking about.

Grimoire Thief
Creature – Merfolk Rogue
Whenever Grimoire Thief becomes tapped, remove the top three cards of target opponent’s library from the game face down. You may look at cards removed from the game with Grimoire Thief.
U, Sacrifice Grimoire Thief: Turn all cards removed from the game with Grimoire Thief face up. Counter all spells with those names.

I love me a Merfolk, just in general, and this one has some powerful disruption stapled to his interesting frame. Merfolk occasionally get bandied about in Extended, since they seem like one of the better way to put Opposition to good use, and this one compares somewhat favorably to Meddling Mage. If not today, then soon, and for the rest of his life in Extended… Chris Pikula grinning mug won’t last forever in this format.

Counter target noncreature spell.

Any interesting counterspell is worthy of note, and this is a pretty solid one in the right metagame breakdown. For the most part, however, you want your cheap counters to hit creatures, so this is overall probably worse than Mana Leak in the format, which is already seeing zero play since we still get to use Counterspell if we want it.

Sage’s Dousing
Tribal Instant – Wizard
Counter target spell unless its controller pays 3. If you control a Wizard, draw a card.

Speaking of “worse than Mana Leak,” here we get a potential cantrip Mana Leak for just one more mana’s investment instead of the traditional two that goes into cantripping a spell. I wouldn’t really think hard about this one except for the existence of the next card, which can turn it into a Mana Leak with all upsides… but seeing how Wizards are one of those things you have to pay attention to in Extended to see if you have hit the critical mass of goodness already, this one earns a nod.

Stonybrook Banneret
Creature – Merfolk Wizard
Islandwalk. Merfolk spells and Wizard spells you play cost 1 less to play.

If you don’t believe me that Wizards are one of those things you have to pay attention to, perhaps this guy can borrow your eye. As an accelerant this can do some interesting things, like drop the cost of Dark Confidant to just a single Black mana, or perhaps otherwise let your Wizard tribe go buck wild. That I start wanting to put this guy into a deck alongside the Dark Confidant and Meddling Mage and scan Gatherer for other White, Blue, or Black wizards with colorless mana in their cost and see what kind of Wizard love we can spread around is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how much you love a Patron Wizard. I’d say my love for the Patron Wizard is downright unhealthy, especially when it comes to the overall health of your match win percentage, and it can’t help that this guy cuts the cost of Merfolk as well, whom I am known to love even more unhealthily.

Vendilion Clique
Legendary Creature – Faerie Wizard
Flash, Flying.
When Vendilion Clique comes into play, look at target player’s hand. You may choose a nonland card from it. If you do, that player reveals the chosen card, puts it on the bottom of his or her library, then draws a card.

While this guy’s home probably is Standard rather than Extended, it’s worth noting that you have a Blue Duress effect here and a Rishadan Airship with Flash, all of which combines very neatly into a tight package for just three mana… and, conspicuously, fits that Gatherer search for wizards with at least one colorless mana in their cost, potentially having an opening with Stonybrook Banneret into Dark Confidant + Vendilion Clique on the third turn. A potent effect at an acceptable cost, and a strong evasive body as well… all good things. As just himself I don’t think he’s quite up to snuff for Extended, but I think he can fit into places that give him a good chance to shine, just like Venser did when he won the most recent Extended Pro Tour.

Earwig Squad
Creature – Goblin Rogue
Prowl 2B (You may play this for its prowl cost if you dealt combat damage to a player this turn with a Goblin or Rogue.)
When Earwig Squad comes into play, if its prowl cost was paid, search target opponent’s library for three cards and remove them from the game. Then that player shuffles his or her library.

And so begin the Goblins. This guy excites me… I remember back in the day when I would pay the full six mana for this effect, and not get a 5/3 body as well. Since Prowl triggers off of not just Rogues but any creature type shared by the Prowl creature, this skips the “So… Rogues?” question and skips right to “Goblins you!”. You can conceivably get five power for three mana… an amazing deal, as any who have cast Doran recently can tell you… and get a free Jester’s Cap while you are at it. In this format right now, you can absolutely neuter a Dredge deck or an Ideal deck, or perhaps even a Tron deck, with a single Cap by knocking out the cards that let them actually win the game, and I start to get pretty excited just in general and start to want to Goblins people.

Add to that the fact that a truly savvy player can track the contents of their opponent’s deck well enough to get information to estimate the contents of the opponents hand, in a color that also happens to enjoy Cabal Therapy as one of its premiere cards, and I skip from “excited” to “assembling a Goblin deck for the next PTQ.” Its Prowl cost is even reduced by Goblin Warchief, in case three mana’s too much. With some new toys, we also see the first card to make us actually want to play Black Goblins in our otherwise monored Goblin decks and are suitably impressed.

Frogtosser Banneret
Creature – Goblin Rogue
Goblin spells and Rogue spells you play cost 1 less to play.

Speaking of Black goblins in the Goblin deck, we get the redundant Warchief. He’s not as abstractly powerful as the Warchief… giving everyone Haste is at least as important as reducing your costs… but he does perhaps send us over that critical mass of cost-reducers and thus we have to pay attention. Whether he’s a four-of or just lets you stretch your Warchiefs past four into five or six-of, he still earns serious consideration… it’s not like Goblin decks are afraid to play 1/1’s. I haven’t quite figured out how or where he fits yet… so far, I keep cutting him to keep my Mogg War Marshals around… but that is why I’m glad I have a few weeks to figure out how to properly Goblins people and which Goblins should be making the list.

Noggin Whack
Tribal Sorcery – Rogue
Prowl 1B (You may play this for its prowl cost if you dealt combat damage to a player this turn with a Rogue.)
Target player reveals three cards from his or her hand. You choose two of them. That player discards those cards.

At retail price, this is basically unplayable in the format; Cabal Therapy does so much more for a quarter of the price and the low cost of a friend, any friend’ll do… but at its bargain-basement discount this is a very, very strong discard spell. Gerrard’s Verdict had two colors to its cost and always hit the worst two cards, with the bonus of giving you life while it was at it (as if that was generally relevant against the decks whose hands you wanted emptied). Noggin Whack costs a colorless instead of that White and hits cards #2 and #3 instead of #1 and #2 in the “worst cards” department, which is pretty amazing when you start with the presumption that you are trying to get quantity over quality (or else you’d have cast Thoughtseize).

I don’t know if you can get the discount consistently enough to warrant trying for the Prowl deck, but it will be looked at and it even might be worth it.

Warren Weirding
Tribal Sorcery – Goblin
Target player sacrifices a creature. If a Goblin is sacrificed this way, that player puts two 1/1 black Goblin Rogue creature tokens into play, and those tokens gain haste until end of turn.

Another Goblins card. Alongside Tarfire, you have another removal spell you can scoop up with your Ringleaders or tutor for with your Matrons, and Diabolic Edict is a pretty good one to add in. Goblins are already pretty good against small creatures thanks to Sharpshooters, so you can search for a Weirding to clean out something big like Tarmogoyf or Doran, and Goblins are also pretty good against Bridge from Below since it’s so very easy for them to suicide on demand… so getting an Edict to kill the Akroma backup plan can’t be a terrible thing either. I like looking at it as a one-of and seeing where things develop from there.

Countryside Crusher
Creature – Giant Warrior
At the beginning of your upkeep, reveal the top card of your library. If it’s a land card, put it into your graveyard and repeat this process. Whenever a land card is put into your graveyard from anywhere, put a +1/+1 counter on Countryside Crusher.

Much has been said about this card, and frankly it seems to be the preeminent Extended flagship card for the set. He’s ridiculous even just as a beater with the ability to get +1/+1 every time a land goes to the graveyard, and it just so happens he also kinda sorta Tutors for a spell every turn to keep the tank full of gas. He and Terravore shall likely become good friends in the time they have together, and likewise the same is true of he and Grim Lavamancer… either the combo-ish land sweeper decks will love him for his obvious synergy, or the beatdown players will love him for his discounted girth and the ability to Mana Severance your draws.

Wolf-Skull Shaman
Creature – Elf Shaman
Kinship – At the beginning of your upkeep, you may look at the top card of your library. If it shares a creature type with Wolf-Skull Shaman, you may reveal it. If you do, put a 2/2 green Wolf creature token into play.

Generally I think that Kinship is too slow for Extended… any mechanic that gains larger benefits over the course of multiple turns is going to have that be true, and this is just the newest of the bunch. But a cheap man that starts out acceptably sized and can bring a mess of friends to the table is really worth noting, especially in Sensei’s Divining Format. Another Elf pushes that tribe further towards critical mass, and how can that be a bad thing?

Murmuring Bosk
Land – Forest
(Tap: Add G to your mana pool.)
As Murmuring Bosk comes into play, you may reveal a Treefolk card from your hand. If you don’t, Murmuring Bosk comes into play tapped.
Tap: Add W or B to your mana pool. Murmuring Bosk deals 1 damage to you.

Unlike the other tribe-lands, this one counts as a basic land type, meaning that it’s an automatic include even in decks with no Treefolk that just happen to want to tap for all of these colors in Extended. That it also happens to align very neatly with the current presumed best deck to play in the format, Doran Rock, can’t hurt either.

Tap: Add 1 to your mana pool. 1: Mutavault becomes a 2/2 creature with all creature types until end of turn. It’s still a land.

This is probably the second best man-land ever printed, as it mimics most of the best portions of its predecessor the Factory and has some potential for unexpected Tribal synergy as well. Plenty of decks will want it, and it comes at a minimal cost when the colored mana is as good as it is here in the land of Onslaught fetches and Ravnica duals… all the rest have that pesky ‘comes into play tapped’ problem, while this just happens to tap for the wrong color of mana. That last fact shall frequently not matter, since it is tapping to attack, not for mana… its low activation cost helps to ensure that.

Primal Beyond
As Primal Beyond comes into play, you may reveal an Elemental card from your hand. If you don’t, Primal Beyond comes into play tapped.
Tap: Add 1 to your mana pool.
Tap: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool. Spend this mana only to play Elemental spells or activated abilities of Elementals.

Where I ignored or otherwise discounted most of the two-color Tribe lands, here we can’t quite do the same… a land that taps for five colors at no cost is a land you need to pay attention to. Pillar of the Paruns is good enough to earn serious consideration, and Primal Beyond merely asks that they be Elementals, not Gold. Some of the darnedest things are Elementals nowadays, though, like Blistering Firecat… this may contribute to a Red Deck Wins sort of multicolor deck using an Elemental creature force, which happens to also get Flamekin Bladewhirl as a man that demands thinking about. Whether as an aggressive concept or a more mid-range theme, something might just be seaworthy enough to make this card useful in Extended, as it is a damn good land if you can use it.

And sadly, that closes it out for cards I think warrant attention in Extended; some Goblins, some Wizards, and some Lands being the main things of note. Watching the recent trends at the PTQ level, though, I’m struck by the fact that we see some new Goblins released (at least one of which is quite impressive) at the same time as the little Red horde began reappearing in numbers across the PTQ circuit. Curiously enough, they’re starting to work with some non-Goblin cards in them just as a matter of course, unless you are a true Goblin purist… some tried Terminate, while others went to even further extremes and fished out Dark Confidants and Blood Moons to make their ends meet. Some decklists:

Kim Kluck – 7th – PTQ Hollywood 2007 – Hamburg

4 Goblin Warchief
4 Goblin Matron
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Gempalm Incinerator
4 Skirk Prospector
4 Goblin Ringleader
4 Goblin Piledriver
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
1 Siege-Gang Commander
1 Wort, Boggart Auntie
3 Mad Auntie

3 Terminate
4 Chrome Mox

4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Auntie’s Hovel
3 Barbarian Ring
3 Blood Crypt
1 Swamp
4 Mountain

4 Cabal Therapy
3 Duress
4 Leyline of the Void
4 Shattering Spree

Yes, that is some Auntie action going on there. Compared to what you’re seeing elsewhere, though, the lack of Mogg War Marshal is downright conspicuous, when everything else about it toes the line so neatly. This next list remedies that lack, at some costs of its own…

Dark Confidant isn’t a Goblin, and this fact was very pertinent throughout the day as I watched the Goblin decks in action, with this particular version missing on Ringleaders and very rarely having Bob being Bob truly matter for the deck. I aim to think more that Brad won matches despite the Confidants being Confidants rather than because of it, and some of the prices paid might not ultimately be worth it… I for one don’t intend to have less than the full four Incinerators, if I’m shuffling up 60 to Goblins you.

And then we get to the list I like the most, even though I didn’t get to bed until 2am when I had work the next day because I had to wait for him to finish Goblinsing people. It just… has all Goblins. Goblins like more Goblins, which is why it’s so sad that they waited so long to introduce Tribal Sorceries when our Ringleaders could have, would have, should have been able to find us Empty the Warrens. Jim also has the most lands, letting you get your Goblins on most consistently… though I think that 24 sources may not be necessary, when 23 might do just as well and you can sneak in another Goblin.

If only Mutavault was a Tribal Changeling Land, so I could keep it if I Ringleadered… oh, if only, if only.

I think this plays very neatly to the Goblins’ key strengths, and this is more or less the deck I would choose to start off with as I looked at adding Morningtide cards. A land, the Hooligan and the ‘spare’ Sharpshooter are the main-deck changes I’m looking at for potentially shifting over, and four of those lands will become Mutavaults as I look at the first-pass new deck. Switching over, we see:

The key thing to note is that I’d like to figure out how many Mutavaults the deck can afford over colored mana sources, as I figure that number is probably actually less than four, especially with a Pendelhaven already in the deck as a colorless source. Seeing how other lists have had Ghost Quarters you can assume that at least two and probably three Mutavaults are ‘free,’ but this is why we start with a first-pass list and go from there when it comes to getting all of the numbers right. For a sideboard, the first concept I had was to try this:

4 Shattering Spree
4 Tormod’s Crypt
4 Cabal Therapy
2 Earwig Squad
1 Goblin Sharpshooter

The non-Goblins are hopefully pretty obvious; two are excellent ‘hosers’ that happen to put the squeeze on a variety of deck-types, as Shattering Spree is pretty good against Signets and Shackles as well as ‘just’ Affinity, so you can either demolish their board with its Replicate effect against Affinity or lean on its virtually uncounterable nature against non-Affinity decks. As good as Ancient Grudge is, I think the Spree fits better here, especially in a deck that can cash in Goblins for red mana to truly crank the Spree into overdrive. Crypt hits Dredge in the nuts, while also doing good work against stuff like Aggro-Loam… and the price is right, after all. Therapy is amazing, and just demolishes some decks… so even though it’s not a Goblin, it warrants inclusion.

The Squads (obviously enough) come in against decks that are vulnerable to getting Capped; they’re like more flexible Extirpates against Dredge as they can lock out the end-game in whatever way is most appropriate, that happen to also cut out any other narrow deck as well… and count as a Goblin, and swing for five. It also happens to be a good portion of the anti-Plague plan, as a single Engineered Plague isn’t messily fatal and one Squad makes sure you’ll never face down duplicates. They require the attack phase so they can’t be a catch-all, but they are an amazing piece of disruptive Goblin technology that attacks a key segment of the metagame as a whole and deserves respect for exactly that reason. The spare Sharpshooter is because there are plenty of times where you want to be able to deploy it without having to rely on it since you only have one, and things break. The Goblin mirror, Rock decks… all of these are places where it’d be wonderful to have the Sharpshooter online, but there are these Smothers and Mogg Fanatics and stuff that just keep it from living past the first frenzied instance of its activation going on the stack and presumably the complex dance of responses that can happen then.

Watching Goblins in action, I was suitably impressed… they have an explosive potential and a powerful mix of card advantage and beatdown that gives them plenty of staying power. The interactions also happen to make them part combo deck in alongside that whole ‘creature rush’ thing, as you’ll note the game ends very quickly when multiple Piledrivers attack with haste, or Sharpshooter plus Skirk Prospector go online together. But wondering at the new Goblin cards and how neatly they seem to have a plan for the metagame as present in the pre-Morningtide environment, you have to wonder where we can go from here… and I for one am happy to start exploring the world of playing a beatdown deck instead of Gifts Rock as I look at decks for not just the PTQ season but also for the upcoming Grand Prix in Philadelphia.

The goal for the next week is to figure out how many Frogtosser Bannerets is the right number, and what you are willing to pay for the right to have him on board. I am comfortably leaning towards “a few”, but that is a vague and highly non-scientific term, not up to my usual standards for acceptability when it comes to picking a number. A deck with 22 lands and 4 Bannerets will probably function just fine, so if we can find three cuts among the Goblin squad the fourth is easy enough… but who can stay and who can go? I’ve found the deck somewhat intuitive to play, which is strange since everyone tells me it’s somewhat counter-intuitive to play, but that still doesn’t lend me the years of experience some others have at swinging with little Red men and untapping Sharpshooters to do bonkers stuff.

Another expansion, another deck to test extensively for consumption… we shall report back later, after a sufficiently long time of practicing the battle cry of “Goblins you!”.

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com