One Step Ahead – Thompson Tackles Extended, Part 1

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Wednesday, September 24th – With Pro Tour: Berlin just around the corner, and with Shards of Alara heralding a New Age of Extended, Gerry Thompson takes us through a few of the existing archetypes and examines how they’re affected by the rotation. With Zoo looking strong, and Affinity promising much, is there room for control or combo offerings? Gerry T reveals all… Warning: contains spoilers.

Between the last couple of sets, the banning of Sensei’s Divining Top, and of course the rotation, Extended is going to look a little different in Berlin. Thankfully, you all have me to give you a heads up on what to expect.

The deck that arguably lost the least in the rotation is also the one that seems to be garnering the most attention. Thanks to Wild Nacatl, Zoo seems like it could be all the rage at the Pro Tour, despite the crushing loss of Vindicate. Oblivion Ring is a solid replacement, and I would recommend playing at least a couple of copies. There are basically three ways to beat a Zoo deck: Threads of Disloyalty, bigger animals like Doran or Wooly Thoctar, or combo. Oblivion Ring solves at least two of those problems, depending on the combo deck.

I considered not even mentioning Oblivion Ring. Do you have any idea how many ideas I try against Zoo, only to have them Oblivion Ringed? I could try to lean on Kitchen Finks, Astral Slide, Umezawa’s Jitte, or whatever, but O-Ring makes them all useless. Most of the world seems to be ignoring this card, and I hope it stays that way. I am not going to lie to you, though. The card is insane.

Here is the list that I would recommend playing:

4 Kird Ape
4 Wild Nacatl
3 Figure of Destiny
3 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Dark Confidant

2 Seal of Fire
4 Lightning Helix
4 Tribal Flames
4 Molten Rain
3 Oblivion Ring

4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Windswept Heath
1 Forest
1 Mountain
1 Stomping Ground
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Steam Vents
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Blood Crypt
1 Temple Garden
1 Godless Shrine

You definitely need the singleton Mountain, but the Forest is probably a bit suspect. It will help you out against Blood Moon effects and the mirror match, but honestly, Blood Moons aren’t exactly popular or even good in this format.

Some lists have Wooly Thoctar or Doran in them, but I would rather focus on the one- and two-drops, while using my three-drops to cement my tempo advantage. I would almost always rather have any one-drop instead of any of the three-drops, simply because the one-drops will end up doing more damage in the short term. If you’re thinking long term in Zoo, you’re thinking incorrectly.

Seal of Fire may seem underwhelming once you compare it to the power level of the cards you’re already playing, or even the ones you could be playing. However, Seal is one of the best ways to stop a Jitte from getting active. While not widely played (and for good reason), Jitte is one of the only ways Faeries can beat Zoo, at least in the first game. Seal is also a unique card type for your Tarmogoyfs. You could play Tarfire in this slot, or even a 1/1 split in case you draw both to get your Goyfs to the max, but I think is Seal is better.

Figure of Destiny may seem like an auto include for anyone who had played Standard, but he’s honestly not as good as you would expect. You should be accomplishing something sick with every mana that you spend in Extended. While Figure is great because you always have something to do with your mana, he is outclassed early, and you don’t want the game to go late, so powering him up to an 8/8 is almost out of the question.

I could certainly see playing Mogg Fanatic instead of Figure if you wanted some ways to keep Birds of Paradise in check, or fight any potential Dredge decks. The fact that Mogg Fanatic barely does anything in the mirror leads me to believe that Figure is the right choice, although only as a three-of. I would never want to draw multiples.

For a sideboard, I definitely want something to hate on Affinity. Ancient Grudge is versatile, so I would use that instead of narrow cards like Kataki. Smother is probably the best way to deal with opposing Tarmogoyfs outside of stretching your manabase for Threads. Past that, Kami of Ancient Law is an answer to Threads or any randomness you might face.

There are several viable combos in Extended, most of which goldfish on turn 4. Clearly Zoo needs some way to fight those decks, as they are probably the worst matchup. Stifle, Gaddock Teeg, and Thorn of Amethyst all have merits, but I think I would go with the Thorn. I think most of the combo decks will be Storm based (TEPS/Dragonstorm), but Thorn is even fine against something like Swans.

Any prepared combo player is going to have a plethora of answers to Gaddock Teeg. He is simply too fragile. Nearly every deck that I have built has incidentally had Firespout in it. It’s quite possibly the best way to gain an extra couple of turns when facing a Zoo deck, and Teeg just gets caught up in the crossfire. You should be looking at a non-creature way of disrupting the combo decks, as they will most likely not be expecting a non-creature disrupter.

The second deck that really impressed me was Faeries. I can hear you all groaning right now. Faeries is an absolute monster in Standard and Block, and now you have to deal with it in Extended as well. Fortunately, most of the Fae lists I’ve seen (courtesy of MWS tournaments) are UG with Tarmogoyfs, looking to shore up their weak matchups against aggressive decks. They resemble Wafo-Tapa’s GP: Vienna list more than modern Faerie decks.

Goyfs are not an absolute must. In the first game, you could either be positioned to beat Zoo and Affinity, or the rest of the field. The rest of the field is much larger, and therefore I would rather take on the field and hope that my sideboard can carry me against aggro.

4 Dark Confidant
4 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Vendilion Clique

4 Ancestral Visions
2 Spell Snare

2 Stifle
4 Remand
4 Bitterblossom
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
3 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Cryptic Command

4 Chrome Mox
4 Polluted Delta
3 River of Tears
3 Mutavault
2 Riptide Laboratory
2 Sunken Ruins
1 Watery Grave
1 Swamp
5 Island

I was having trouble against UW Tron and specifically Decree of Justice, until I added the Stifles. Snare gets boarded out a fair amount, and I considered cutting them entirely. However, you need them against your bad matchups, and they are just fine against everything else.

Jitte was considered format-warping. So was Faeries. It only seems fitting that they be together. Bitterblossom and Jitte have some of the best synergy I’ve seen in quite some time. While Jitte in a Zoo deck might not make much sense (as you can’t prevent them from gaining a huge amount of tempo when they kill your equipped creature), in Faeries it’s the perfect card. Either Zoo has Helix or Seal of Fire (both of which you have one-mana answers to), or they lose. The problem is getting to that point, and not dying in the meantime.

You might be wondering why I’m not playing any Mistbind Cliques or Scions. The answer is simple: they suck. Mistbind Clique is only good against a couple of decks and even then, it’s kind of sketchy. Scion is completely unnecessary, and would never help you win a game that you weren’t already winning if it were simply any other spell.

This is what I would use for a sideboard:

4 Annul
4 Smother
3 Sower of Temptation
2 Stifle
1 Threads of Disloyalty
1 Spell Snare

I have definitely considered double splashing for Ancient Grudge (and Firespout of course), but that would require a very painful manabase. I’m also not convinced that you need to. When I’ve been playing control, Firespout has been less than impressive against good Zoo players. I would much rather have Threads, and probably even Smother. They can easily play around Spout when you’re trying to attrition them out. Firespout is insane in the combo decks because Zoo can’t afford to hold back. If they do, you can goldfish them on turn 4 or 5. If not, they risk getting blown out.

Here is a UG Faeries/PLU list from a recent Magic-League tournament:

11 Island
4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
4 Breeding Pool
1 Riptide Laboratory

4 Tarmogoyf
3 Vendilion Clique
2 Venser, Shaper Savant

4 Rune Snag
4 Remand
4 Ancestral Vision
4 Cryptic Command
4 Vedalken Shackles
3 Stifle
1 Rude Awakening
3 Spell Snare

1 Stifle
3 Sower of Temptation
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
3 Threads of Disloyalty
4 Pithing Needle
3 Krosan Grip

A few things are wrong with this list. Four Breeding Pools is too many. What’s the point?

Why do you need Rude Awakening anymore? Without Counterbalance and Top, you can bet that most players are going to pick up decks that win faster, as most of the control decks just lost their engine. For example, take a look at my UB Faerie list above. While UB against UG might be a U/x mirror, Rude Awakening is going to be useless. I would rather play with Meloku.

Vedalken Shackles is too slow, and certainly too vulnerable. Everyone’s mind is on Zoo and Affinity. I would rather have Threads against Zoo, and most decks are going to be packing Grudge or at least some form of artifact removal. Are you going to enjoy boarding out your Shackles every game (or getting them killed when you were counting on them to help you stabilize)?

Rune Snag has been underwhelming. The spells are so cheap in this format that Rune Snag gets played around by accident. A Zoo deck is more likely to play around potential Rune Snags or Remands on turn 3 and play a one-drop instead. I would rather have Mana Leak instead of Rune Snag.

I believe that Spellstutter is the correct soft counter for this slot. With a couple Mutavaults, a second Riptide Laboratory (which is amazing by the way), and Threads instead of Shackles, Jitte becomes a real option.

However, I would rather have Bitterblossom and Dark Confidant instead of Goyf. If you would rather play UG instead of UB, I kind of understand.

UW Tron is another deck that seems to have lost nothing. The problem is, with Top banned, most of its good matchups no longer exist. Top was generally played in control decks (Counterbalance, Death Cloud) that Tron preyed on. Even though it may be a worse deck in the format, Tron is possibly the most powerful deck. Tron-ing on turn 3 or 4 should still definitely be respected.

4 Azorius Signet
4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Compulsive Research
1 Oona’s Grace
4 Condescend
4 Remand
4 Wrath of God
2 Chalice of the Void
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Sundering Titan
4 Decree of Justice
3 Chrome Mox

4 Tolaria West
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Tower
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Academy Ruins
1 Island
2 Adarkar Wastes

Mindslaver has not impressed me at all. It’s supposed to be your “big finish,” and yet it ends up as a ten casting cost Fog more often than I would like. Decree or Titan are more likely to win you the game than Mindslaver. There are certain matchups where Mindslaver is great (combo, Dredge, mirror, etc) and for that reason I would recommend playing them in the sideboard, if at all.

The absence of Oblivion Ring may also look suspect, but with combo taking a huge hit, you can expect the combo hate to be at an all time low. Gaddock Teeg no longer shuts down part of your card drawing engine or part of your win conditions, so he’s not nearly as frightening as he once was.

The loss of Counterbalance could end up being great for Tron if everyone starts believing that their two-mana spells are safe. Chalice of the Void is the original Counterbalance, after all. Right now, I’m only trying out a couple of copies, but it’s possible that three or four may be correct.

I am obviously in love with Oona’s Grace, but honestly, it’s the perfect card for Tron. If the gas keeps flowing, you should win as it’s hard for any deck to realistically stop you from doing your absurdly powerful things.

Last Breath is a pretty sick sideboard card, as it deals with almost all of the problem cards (Magus of the Moon, Dwarven Blastminer, Dark Confidant, Gaddock Teeg, etc). Feel free to compliment those with Oblivion Rings if you like.

Other than the mandatory Last Breaths, I would advise you to play something against combo and Affinity. You should have your bases covered after that.

Extended has been defined by combo in the past, but this year might be different. While there are certainly plenty of two-card combos (Stuffy Doll/Guilty Conscience, Ad Nauseam/Angel’s Grace, Intruder Alarm/Sprout Swarm, Kiki Jiki/Pestermite, Swans of Bryn Argoll/Chain of Plasma), most of them are easily disrupted or just don’t have the right shell to work with.

The storm decks will most likely end up being better as their entire deck feeds off itself, whereas you need a ton of awkward tutors to fit together the Swans/Chains combo. At least with Ad Nauseam, there is a combo where Peer through Depths can find both the pieces. Try to build a pure Swans combo deck and you end up with crap like Serum Visions and Beseech the Queen in there.

Dragonstorm has proven to be the most consistent of the combo decks.

4 Kokusho, the Evening Star
1 Bladewing the Risen

4 Ponder
4 Peer through Depths
4 Rite of Flame
4 Seething Song
4 Lotus Bloom
4 Remand
4 Dragonstorm
3 Gigadrowse
2 Pentad Prism
1 Chrome Mox

4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Polluted Delta
4 Flooded Strand
4 Dreadship Reef
1 Breeding Pool
2 Steam Vents
2 Island

4 Xantid Swarm
4 Firespout
1 Gigadrowse
2 Calciform Pools
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Pact of Negation

Honestly, that list is kind of old, but I would rather post it than the current list because this one is more creative, specifically with the Xantid Swarms in the sideboard. I’ve been on the fence about Xantid versus Pact of Negation. The addition of Yavimaya Coasts barely hurt. The only problem is that you’re bringing in Xantids to prevent you from getting Stifled, when they can just Stifle the Xantid trigger and then block. As I said earlier, most of the PLU style decks I’ve seen have been Faerie hybrids.

Regardless, when I had Gigadrowse, Pact, and Xantid, that matchup wasn’t very close. The Blue control decks are probably Dragonstorm’s best matchup, as they don’t put on much pressure, and they can’t stop your amazing protection. With good draws, you can race Zoo and Affinity easily. The only problem is finding enough rituals and a Dragonstorm.

There should be the full amount of Pentad Prisms main deck. Even though they don’t add to your storm count (unless you just want a free spell that does nothing of course), being able to gain two mana from one spell is much more important. Rite of Flame has been so unimpressive.

The games where you draw Lotus Bloom and Dragonstorm usually aren’t very close. However, finding the namesake can be difficult at times. If there were good tutors available (like Burning Wish), this deck would be so much better. It’s possible that I might add a single Grozoth and see how much that helps.

I have seen some lists with Infernal Tutors, but those don’t really accomplish what you need them to do. Finding more acceleration isn’t what you need, as there is plenty main deck, with plenty on the sidelines. You will rarely (if ever) get to eleven mana, so you won’t be able to use it to find Dragonstorm.

The singleton Chrome Mox seems like it would be better than an extra land, but anymore than that and you risk drawing some very poor opening hands. Against control decks with Ancient Grudge, you want to be able to side out your artifact mana for more lands, so I also don’t want to overload myself on artifacts.

Kokusho versus Bogarden Hellkite is an interesting debate. On one hand, you are immune to nearly all hate cards that Hellkite would be awful against. On the other hand, sometimes casting a single Hellkite is a great path to victory. Or at least it used to be. From my experience, a single Hellkite isn’t often good enough in Extended, so for now, I would advise you to run Kokushos. If you aren’t worried about Runed Halo, Circle of Protection: Red, or whatever, feel free to run Hellkites. Don’t be surprised when Zoo easily deals with it via Tribal Flames or Oblivion Ring though.

I certainly can’t have an Extended article without some discussion on Affinity. While everyone is heralding this Extended season as the second coming of Affinity, I can’t help but to disagree. Affinity may very well be the best game 1 deck in the format, but once your opponent reaches for their sideboard, your chances of winning the match go way down. Not only do they get some amazing cards against you, you barely gain anything.

No matter what I play at Pro Tour: Berlin, you can expect me to be prepared for any Affinity deck I play against. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to have four Kataki and four Fracturing Gust, just that I will most likely have some Ancient Grudges and Spell Snares, which is usually enough.

With Shards having a mini artifact theme, you can certainly bet that there will be some attractive looking cards for Affinity. So far, only two have caught my eye: Master of Etherium and Ethersworn Canonist. The Master would be a slightly better Moriok Rigger, if not for it being an artifact and therefore Grudge-able; The Canonist is a bit better, and combos well with Erayo.

4 Ornithopter
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
4 Ethersworn Canonist
4 Dark Confidant

4 Springleaf Drum
4 Remand
4 Cranial Plating
4 Thoughtcast
4 Chrome Mox

4 Seat of the Synod
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Ancient Den
3 Blinkmoth Nexus
1 Glimmervoid

Obviously that above list is very rough, but you get the idea. Consider changing the Arcbound Workers to Heap Dolls. There’s still enough graveyard business going on in Extended, and someone has to keep Dredge honest.

Join me next week when I wrap up my overview with a few lists that are a little more off the radar.