Last week, we had a look at a new spin on an old favorite, looking to update the Rock for modern Extended. While everyone is looking at Faeries or Zoo or Elves as their deck of choice, I was curious to see how Extended looked from the perspective of the fair-to-a-fault Black/Green deck. In working up a list, I applied my own experiences with the format (just as a playtester since Pro Tour: Berlin and Worlds) to the decklist of eighteenth-place finisher Marcio Carvalho in Berlin. Some things seemed very right about the decklist he’d chosen, even as I decided certain other things seemed wrong. After all, to be as aggressive as possible, I wanted Mutavault as my choice of man-land, not Treetop Village… and this is a decision that forced me to cut the ‘extra’ White card from the deck, ushering Doran out the door entirely and making it so that the only card in my main-deck that truly required access to White mana was Tidehollow Sculler.
After some preliminary testing and careful philosophizing about what I wanted to do with the deck, I arrived at the following decklist:
4 Elves of Deep Shadow
4 Dark Confidant
4 Tidehollow Sculler
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Engineered Explosives
4 Chrome Mox
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Windswept Heath
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Godless Shrine
1 Temple Garden
1 Stomping Ground
4 Loxodon Hierarch
3 Krosan Grip
2 Pithing Needle
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
I wasn’t completely sold on the Pithing Needles in the sideboard, but lacking a greater understanding of what I was really trying to accomplish, I left in the utility sideboard card instead of worry about it too much, and let the games sort themselves out. Playing the matchups out was going to be my key to understanding what did and did not work about this deck; it’s great to theorize, but nothing holds a candle to shuffling up to play. This article, then, is going to be a matchup analysis from my understanding of things so far. We’ll look at the Big Three first, and go from there.
Versus Domain Zoo (Naya Might Get There)
Zoo is a tricky beast, but one that you have a clear advantage against if you can make Engineered Explosives stick. With their highly focused aggressive push relying on either one-drops or two-drops to make the difference, a single Explosives will have a huge impact on the game. You are to at least some degree a ‘pre-sideboarded’ Zoo deck as far as they are concerned, which is to say you’re both playing a lot of the same cards but theirs are dedicated to an aggressive push, while yours are well-suited to taking the controlling role. Kitchen Finks and Engineered Explosives are both huge in this matchup, as is the fact that they have burn spells like Lightning Helix and Tribal Flames, but you have non-damage-based removal like Putrefy and Smother in addition to those Engineered Explosives, so you can kill their Tarmogoyfs with relative ease, but they have a difficult time killing yours thanks to the fact that Land, Instant, Sorcery, Creature, and Artifact all have a reasonable chance of appearing in the game, making Tarmogoyfs a 5/6 nightmare monster that cannot be taken down by a single Tribal Flames.
On the play, careful attention to tempo will let you cruise through the game, so long as you draw reasonably… i.e. aren’t forced to play the game without any of the important cards. No one’s Dark Confidants will live, but you have less removal than they do overall so there’s a higher chance theirs will than yours will, so try to keep things to “no one’s Dark Confidants will live” and everyone will be happier that way. Umezawa’s Jitte is the other card that is crucial to pay attention to managing carefully; here the difference is that this deck just has more lands, so the chances are much higher that we’ll be able to play a Jitte and equip that same turn to get some value out of it, while they are not favored at all to get that fourth mana source in play to use Jitte the same turn you play it, instead of as a Suspend spell that your opponent can then play around.
On the draw, everything changes. They are fast enough to make you play catch-up, which makes us all the more glad that the manabase doesn’t require us using fetch-lands into Ravnica duals because we can’t cede six life to the opponent on the draw. Chrome Mox and Elves of Deep Shadow can give us the opportunity to jump ahead of the opponent mana-wise, to try and turn things back towards how they were with us on the play, but it’s not easy and a lot of games will start with a turn 1 Engineered Explosives for one.
Sideboarding should come as no great surprises; Thoughtseize is terrible in this matchup, and Loxodon Hierarch is amazing, so those get swapped out for each other one-for-one. On the play, the fourth Chrome Mox turns into the sideboarded Selesnya Sanctuary; on the draw, you want to keep that Mox so you can cut the Stomping Ground instead. Sanctuary is there to aid in getting those Hierarchs into play, and other than that the question is to be asked whether the third copy of Umezawa’s Jitte should be brought in. It’s reasonable to expect the opponent is bringing in Duergar Hedge-Mage, since we present a tasty number of artifact targets: Moxes, Scullers, Explosives, and Jittes. (Bitterblossom would be a downright silly addition, for exactly this reason; it’ll just die for free.) I’d actually leave the third Jitte out on the draw, but try to keep it on the play, cutting an Engineered Explosives to make room for the third Jitte.
Let’s play an example game out. It’s game one and we’re on the play; we open with Forest, Bloodstained Mire, Mutavault, Elves of Deep Shadow, Kitchen Finks, Engineered Explosives, Thoughtseize. We lead with Forest into Elves of Deep Shadow, while the opponent cracks Windswept Heath for Temple Garden and casts Wild Nacatl. On our turn we draw Smother, and crack that Bloodstained Mire for an untapped Godless Shrine and tap our Elves of Deep Shadow as well, costing us four life this turn. We cast Kitchen Finks, going back up to 18 and giving us something juicy to gum up the works with from the get-go. For the opponent’s turn 2, he cracks Wooded Foothills for an untapped Blood Crypt and casts Tidehollow Sculler, getting a crack at our hand and taking the Engineered Explosives, our key to stabilizing. Zoo then attacks and we trade half our Finks for their turn 1 play, ending up back at 20 with our 2/1 Finks ready to attack.
For our third turn, we draw a Dark Confidant, and play our Mutavault as our land for the turn. Where before the plan was to Smother the Sculler at some point, now we have two lines of play to consider, and we’ll choose which we take after a Thoughtseize. We end up at 18, and get to see our opponent’s five-card hand: Tribal Flames, Dark Confidant, Lightning Helix, Bloodstained Mire, and Kird Ape. Tribal Flames is the most damaging burn spell and we can readily contain Dark Confidant from his side of the table, but if we take his Lightning Helix we can force him to use Tribal Flames instead of Lightning Helix on our own Dark Confidant, or face the Confidant living for a turn. We take Lightning Helix, and settle in to take another point from our Elves of Deep Shadow and cast Dark Confidant after we attack and the opponent unsurprisingly takes two from the persistent Finks.
On turn 3 the opponent fetches basic Mountain with his fetchland, going to eleven, and casts Tribal Flames on our Dark Confidant, and makes his own fresh Kird Ape. An attack from the Sculler drops us to fifteen. We have Smother in hand, while he has Dark Confidant and an unknown card. On our turn we draw another Kitchen Finks and play it, going back up to seventeen. The opponent stays on defense and casts Dark Confidant and Mogg Fanatic, leaving one card in hand. Our next draw is Chrome Mox, leaving things less than hopeful, especially since we now have to face using Smother on the Confidant or letting him get a free draw off it. With nothing of great relevance to do, we just attack in with Kitchen Finks, which our opponent elects to trade with his Kird Ape rather than take three. Persist puts us to nineteen, and the opponent has a Mogg Fanatic, Dark Confidant, Tidehollow Sculler and three lands plus an unknown card in hand, to our Elves of Deep Shadow, two 2/1 Kitchen Finks, three lands and a Smother in hand, plus an Engineered Explosives hidden under the opponent’s Sculler.
Our opponent reveals Dark Confidant and goes to 9, then draws for the turn. The opponent plays a tapped Sacred Foundry for the turn and passes with no attack after casting the second Dark Confidant, ready to watch for us to blink. At end of turn we cast Smother targeting Tidehollow Sculler, to get back our Engineered Explosives, and the opponent correctly points his Mogg Fanatic at Elves of Deep Shadow. If we can’t play a mana source this turn he gets two free cards for his gambit; we need to draw a non-artifact spell or any land, and in fact a Putrefy goes under the Chrome Mox to empty our hand and blow up the two Dark Confidants, leaving the opponent with no permanents save four lands and one card in hand. Our attack of two Finks puts him to five, and two Finks plus a Mutavault to stone-cold nothing carries the game after a turn or two. There’s no coming back from this position… but if the gambit worked and he got two more cards out of the deal, it wouldn’t have been very hard to outclass the 2/1 Finks with the extra cards.
We win because we drew two Finks and an Engineered Explosives when we’d settled ourselves into something of a controlling role, but that ‘controlling’ role was not particularly easy to see this game because we dictated a good bunch of the tempo and were as a rule the player that was attacking. Zoo could have traded less but taken more damage in there, and ultimately led to the same result. The more interesting question is what would have happened if the opponent led with Dark Confidant instead of Tidehollow Sculler, leaving us to Smother it immediately and Thoughtseize them the next turn, letting them see Engineered Explosives and Dark Confidant as our remaining cards to battle with Lightning Helix, Tribal Flames, and Kird Ape as their spells still at that point. In actuality we probably take their Sculler instead of letting them disrupt us and kill their Confidant with Smother, giving us Dark Confidant and Engineered Explosives versus their two lands in play, land in hand, Kird Ape, Tribal Flames, and Lightning Helix. We draw another Finks to take us out of burn range while they draw a Fanatic; the next exchange is our Engineered Explosives and the spent half of a Finks for their Kird Ape and Mogg Fanatic, and we have an attacking Finks, a waiting Mutavault, and Dark Confidant plus Chrome Mox in hand with Putrefy waiting on top, while they have a second Dark Confidant to be drawn the next turn. This presumably forces the opponent to start answering Finks with his removal spells, since we’re out of range but are drastically cutting into his life and have kept his creatures from doing anything meaningful to our life totals; we Putrefy the next Confidant and have a dead Chrome Mox but can pit Finks and Mutavault against Helix, Flames and his life total. Ultimately we again reach a parity position, with their life total depending on when they settled in and accepted they had to waste their burn spells to double up on that Finks, and in a topdeck war. I think they were actually more favored to win the game by taking that route, but they must have felt Confidant was too important to just run out there unprotected when they had a Tidehollow Sculler to potentially clear the way.
Zoo is by no means an easy and clear-cut matchup, but this does feel like a good number of the games. They have aggressive potential and the ability to follow up any window of opportunity you give them with a flurry of burn spells, but that potential can be blunted by the control cards this deck has chosen to play. After sideboarding we get four stupid elephants and no crappy Thoughtseizes, even though this game was one of those rare and unusual examples where the Thoughtseize was worthwhile instead of a terrible, terrible draw like it usually is.
I’m going to look at Faeries with Bitterblossom main for the topic of this analysis, because that is predominantly what I’ve been seeing lately online and thus the large bulk of what I know to look at. Faeries is a deck that really requires you to draw the disruptive portion of your deck reasonably well if you want to get your say, and also a deck that really rewards you for drawing Chrome Mox because that burst of speed can be quite important for establishing a fast pace to the game. They have countermagic, but the effectiveness of Spell Snare is useless against Kitchen Finks, making it and Mutavault your two best threats in the matchup. Faeries is very likely to “go long” against you, giving them time to turn Bitterblossom and Riptide Laboratory to their advantage, so getting a solid aggressive start is very important and you should be aiming to sculpt the first few turns around Spell Snare if you can at all. For this reason, Chrome Mox and Elves of Deep Shadow are invaluable, since they let you zip ahead in the mana curve and skip from one mana to three, going directly to Kitchen Finks or Thoughtseize-plus-two-drop. And hey, sometimes they play an untapped Island but don’t have the Spell Snare, you never know.
A resolved Dark Confidant can be a lot of trouble for them, but then they also have Threads of Disloyalty so they may turn it around into a problem for you. Krosan Grip is excellent out of the sideboard for their Shackles, their Threads, and their Bitterblossoms, but game 1 you can be a bit of an underdog: you have to apply pressure hard to win, and really need a piece of disruption if you want to get there. For sideboarding, much as the recent trend has been with Zoo discussions, I’m taking out Tarmogoyf and replacing it with Bitterblossom to dodge the worst-case scenarios of what could go wrong if my opponent has Threads of Disloyalty, and shave two each of Smother and Engineered Explosives for the three Krosan Grips and third Jitte… and Chrome Mox #4 can happily turn into the Selesnya Sanctuary, because the games where you draw two Chrome Moxes are games where you drew a dead card you can’t afford to stumble on. This feels like the sort of place where I’d be thinking maybe I want Pithing Needle, which is why I am looking and saying maybe Pithing Needle isn’t the card to have in my sideboard anyway. More testing will be needed to determine that one for sure, though.
In this example game, we’re going to be on the draw, because what’s the point of looking at all of these matchups and saying “I would suggest you win the die roll!” as our ‘strategy’ for the day. Faeries leads with its presumed best opener, Island into suspended Ancestral Visions, while we have something of an awkward turn 1 hand: Chrome Mox, Bloodstained Mire, Mutavault, Kitchen Finks, Tidehollow Sculler, Dark Confidant, Smother. We draw for the turn and get a Tarmogoyf, which doesn’t really threaten to do anything anytime soon. We lead with Bloodstained Mire for Overgrown Tomb, going to seventeen, and imprint Kitchen Finks on our Chrome Mox in order to get both White and Black mana for Tidehollow Sculler next turn. We lead with Dark Confidant because that’s good for a few free cards in the meantime.
Our opponent ticks down his Visions and plays Mutavault, saying go; we flip over Engineered Explosives as our free draw, draw another Mutavault for our turn, and play Mutavault and cast Tidehollow Sculler before attacking. Our opponent Stifles the comes-into-play ability, letting us freely attack with Dark Confidant. On their next turn they play River of Tears and pass; we flip another Tarmogoyf and go to fifteen from Dark Confidant, then draw another Chrome Mox for the turn. We play the second Mutavault and activate the first with it, attacking with Confidant, Sculler and Mutavault into the opponent’s Mutavault with Chrome Mox, Smother, Explosives and Tarmogoyf in our hand, four cards in theirs and Ancestral Visions due to tick down in another two turns. The opponent casts Vendilion Clique targeting us, and we Smother it in response to keep our damage going and Dark Confidant active, and the opponent chooses to let us draw again instead of keep a Tarmogoyf in hand while he takes six, going down to twelve. Tarmogoyf is replaced by Elves of Deep Shadow. Ancestral Visions ticks down to one time counter left and the opponent plays Riptide Laboratory and passes; I breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have to deal with my Confidant being Sowered right now.
Our Confidant flips Tidehollow Sculler #2, and our draw is Windswept Heath. We lead with the Sculler and it is Spell Snared, then fetch out basic Forest and cast Elves of Deep Shadow to see if there’s a Spellstutter Sprite in our future, and there is. This keeps Dark Confidant home, but we attack with Sculler and Mutavault, dropping the opponent to eight the turn before their Visions goes off. Visions fires to give the opponent a new hand, and our opponent plays Island #2 and Vedalken Shackles. Shackles immediately takes Dark Confidant to deny us a draw, and Spellstutter attacks; we draw Kitchen Finks for the turn, cast Engineered Explosives for three, and crack it immediately to get Confidant back, letting us attack with Sculler again to drop the opponent to six. The opponent has Threads of Disloyalty to steal Confidant again, while we have Kitchen Finks and the mana to pay for a Mana Leak; the game struggles for the next two turns as the opponent flips a land and a second Visions with my Dark Confidant before hitting a nice juicy Sower of Temptation with it, is forced to return it to my hand with Riptide Laboratory or risk death, and three turns later is ground to grist thanks to the early jump I’d gotten on the game. Without turn 1 Chrome Mox, my opponent wins this one handily. Time is not on your side in this matchup.
Elves is a tricky matchup; they’re not actually very resilient, and many of their hands will fold to a single Thoughtseize, but it’s incredibly crucial to be on the play since if left unmolested on the first two turns they are quite likely to kill you on the third and you need as many opportunities as you can to interact with them before they tell you they never planned on interacting with you anyway. Thankfully, they are a deck that is perfectly attacked by a Rock-style deck; while they are still broken and thus can do explosive things seemingly out of nowhere, they rely on cards in hand and creatures in play to do it for them, and these are the kinds of things the Rock deck is expert at breaking over and over again. Knowing how their deck works is crucial to victory, and sometimes you’ll take the right piece and there still won’t be anything you can do about it because they come back into the game and explode with mana or cards or both at once, and that’s the game right there. I’d say it’s favorable on the play, unfavorable on the draw, and there’s no real way to control that. At least one piece of discard will be needed in the first two turns if you want to be in the game, and a piece of acceleration can help make sure you get to actually hit them instead of flail around trying to stop them from winning only to find that now you’ve also stopped yourself from winning, at least anytime soon.
For the example game, I’m going to switch it up a little. You’ve seen things through the lens of a winning game, to see how the Rock tries to do it and get a feel for the approach you need to apply if you’re going to try and win the game. Here instead you’ll see how the Rock deck can do everything right, get a bad break in one way but a good break another to even it out, and still find that there’s just nothing to be done.
My opponent is on the play for this one, and starts with a Forest and turn 1 Llanowar Elves. My opening hand is Temple Garden, Bloodstained Mire, Mutavault, Elves of Deep Shadow, Tidehollow Sculler, Engineered Explosives, Umezawa’s Jitte. I draw a Smother and lead with Temple Garden and Elves of Deep Shadow, with a solid next turn so long as my opponent doesn’t do anything stupid all over me. Their next turn they fail to play a second land and just cast Elvish Visionary. I have a strong feeling if they had another land I’d be dead right now. But that could just be paranoia seeping in. On my turn I draw Thoughtseize, which is quite an amazing draw indeed, as now I can crack my Bloodstained Mire for basic Swamp, proceed to both Thoughtseize and Sculler him, and not lose the game next turn.
I’m able to take Glimpse of Nature away with Thoughtseize, and hide a second Glimpse with Tidehollow Sculler, leaving him Nettle Sentinel, Heritage Druid, Wirewood Hivemaster and Wirewood Symbiote. I was, in fact, dead if he drew a land, or so I am estimating. For his next turn he draws that second land, and chooses to play Wirewood Symbiote, untapping his Llanowar Elf and getting another use in of his Elvish Visionary, leaving him with Nettle Sentinel, Heritage Druid, Wirewood Hivemaster and an unknown card in hand versus my Mutavault, Explosives, Jitte and Smother. My draw for the turn is Kitchen Finks, and I go ahead and Smother the Symbiote and play Umezawa’s Jitte with an Elf and Mutavault ready to attack. My opponent now has to make whatever play he can to fill the board next turn, helped somewhat by the fact that he bounced his Visionary again, which will hopefully walk him into my Engineered Explosives.
My opponent draws for the turn, plays Summoner’s Pact, and combo-kills me somehow. I check back in five minutes or so later and he’s still carefully managing his triggers and his turn, and there’s some obscene number of Insect tokens in play and a Regal Force involved, so it’s clear how this one ended up.
The ‘bad break’ was being on the draw; if on the play this is a drastically different game, with a turn-two Sculler and an Explosives for one, taking his Heritage Druid to stop him from exploding on mana and forcing him to try and use the first Glimpse to set up a hand that actually does something. Arguably that’s what should have happened anyway, except there was that other Thoughtseize and well we were probably dead next turn if that’s how we tried to play it, because we were on the draw, not the play. We didn’t have that kind of time at our disposal and we did have another discard effect, so we played the hand the way it seemed best to try and jump on top of the Elf deck a little. The good break was that they skipped their second land drop, because otherwise they just Glimpse and crank out some Elves for a while and set themselves up into a huge position with a developed board and a Glimpse in hand for next turn, going off just a little now in order to really, no really, go off the next turn. We were never in it if they didn’t skip on land drops, and I guess we should just be thankful that they didn’t want to take the risk and played Elvish Visionary to try and draw that land instead of figuring they’d get it soon enough off their Glimpse and sort of go for it anyway.
We did everything right, but some hands just don’t let you beat them. That’s Elves. Swap out one more fact in our favor and we’re actually able to win this game; if they get a dead draw instead of a live one the turn that they killed me, it’s actually a very competitive game for the Rock deck to take the Elves out here… Explosives for one to kill their team, equip the Sculler and attack, cruise from there with Jitte counters. But the Elves are dangerous and are out to get you, even though you’re pretty good at forcing them to interact with you.
After these Big Three, well sure there are other decks to pay attention to, but I haven’t gotten a lot of time working against them. I’d say the Rock deck is in the range of evenly matched against Faeries and Elves, with matchup awareness being required to even get us to that point because frankly they’re playing powerful decks and we’re playing Kitchen Finks in Extended with Loxodon Hierarchs in the sideboard. Rock is significantly favored against Zoo, which is good because we’d get sick if we just had all “merely okay” matchups all across the board, and against the remainder of the format we see some interesting things.
All-In Red is a bye if we get to go first, because they are a deck that loses the game to a single Thoughtseize more or less, but is a nightmare on the draw… Bitterblossom is particularly cute after sideboarding there, simply because it blocks a Demigod for a life a turn, and Krosan Grip is more-or-less a requirement to compete if you want to survive Blood Moon. Let’s be honest, we have four basics and four Chrome Moxes, and we can’t rely on all of our basics to cast relevant spells. But get one Duress in edgewise and they’re dead men. All things considered, that means we’re a poor matchup for All-In Red; a lot of decks, it doesn’t have to win the die roll to defeat them with the ridiculous draw. That gives you two real clear advantages where other decks can only claim one; they have to win the die roll if they want to go first and thus be protected from your pinpoint discard, and they have to not mulligan into oblivion. Most other decks only get the ‘mulligan to oblivion’ free out in the match, and may have to get it twice that match if they want to escape it.
Storm Combo can be much the same, in that we have a bunch of Duresses and cheap clocks and mana acceleration, so the name of the game is ‘disruption’ and the match is favorable. Ditto for Swans, as it’s a combo deck that doesn’t like you taking the pieces away, but in this case it’s a Blue control deck with a combo finish instead of just racing and disruption, so there’s more interplay to it than that. Smothers are absolutely dead but Krosan Grips will not be, with Blood Moon as a key target and other things coming up as worthwhile at least sometimes… but your general inability to kill Swans of Bryn Argoll can be a hassle, as you get two Putrefies, an active Jitte (good luck with that against the Swans’ built-in damage prevention) and Engineered Explosives for four as your means of taking it off the table. Swans combo is at least somewhat resilient, then, and you get to play a real match, but again your discard is key both for information-gaining and for combo disruption… you sure can’t kill a Swans, but a Swans discarded with Thoughtseize is still sitting pretty in the graveyard where you want it.
If you want to consider Mono-Red Burn to be a combo deck, then it is one where we are again clearly favored… but not because Thoughtseize is good, because clearly here it’s not, but because we’re battling with Finks and Hierarchs against a deck playing Lava Spike and pointing it at your face. Krosan Grip, the last Jitte, and Loxodon Hierarch are all better than the Putrefies, some of your Engineered Explosives, and dear god let’s get Thoughtseize out of there. Hierarchs, unsurprisingly, make the Red burn deck cry.
And let us not forget Death Cloud Rock… a slow control deck that tries to play the Rock game against the Rock deck. While game 1 can be a little tricky, since we focus a little more on killing permanents with Engineered Explosives and they aren’t well-known for playing an amazing amount of permanents, you’ll find the game a laughable breeze after sideboarding in Bitterblossom for constant pressure that even a Death Cloud can’t wipe off the board. Your discard is very good against them, and Mutavaults are absolute killers because they’re extra damage they can’t remove with their sorcery-speed Death Clouds and Damnations. In the battle to be the better Rock deck, they simply fail for a variety of reasons… from Mutavault being hard to handle to Kitchen Finks surviving Death Cloud, and of course my favorite is the fact that one Thoughtseize can turn them from a playable deck with a plan to a really good draft deck without enough creatures. I won’t complain about having a reasonably favorable matchup, but I just don’t understand the draw to play it, and consider playing against a deck that is in no risk of killing me or even really locking me out of the game by turn 4 or so to be ‘comfortable and relaxing.’ Sure, I guess they could try to have the Tribe-Elder into Garruk into turn 4 Death Cloud draw, but I don’t see this as being very likely. So I’m comfortable, and relaxed.
All in all, it’s been an interesting week of playtesting with what is ultimately a ‘fair’ deck, and you’d be surprised just how many decks in Extended fold to a single Thoughtseize and a little pressure. I consider the experiment worthy of further exploration, even if it does mean ‘playing fair in Extended,’ a concept many are loathe to even consider.
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com