Like I mentioned before, this upcoming PTQ season is the first time that I’ll be playing Extended in the Qualifier trenches since before the big Ravnica rotation. Largely because of this, it’s also the first time that I don’t really know where to look for all of the answers that I want. This means that I’m in the unique (for me) position of being able to simply share what I’m doing with anyone that reads these columns. I don’t have too many preconceived notions that I want to sell you guys on, I just want to tell you what I’m thinking.
This column is about what I think of Extended. I think that it’s interesting because it’s very different from what I thought about Extended just a month or two ago, and I know that many of the people that live in the Magic House and many of the players at CMU and in Pittsburgh felt the same way I used to. However, after really getting my feet wet, I’ve found that Extended is something I really like, as opposed to the huge mess I was afraid it might be.
These are the lessons I’ve learned.
You Can Actually Play Magic
I had three big flashes of exposure to Extended after the Ravnica rotation. The first was preparation for PT: Los Angeles, where we settled on a deck that did a whole lot of Magic playing. I loved pre-rotation Red Deck Wins, and I loved Aggro Red in Standard, and so I played what I knew. This may have been the format of Blue/Green Desire and numerous flavors of Psychatog, but we came packing Frostlings and Lava Darts. The deck took home quite a stack of cash, and could have taken more if it hadn’t been for a series of misplays and topdecks in the quarterfinals.
After that, though, it seemed like the format started going south. I worked hard with my roommate Steve on the Ichorid deck that would rise to the top towards the end of the season, capped by GP: Charlotte. We stuck Steve into a PTQ with Ichorid, and he wound up losing the finals to one of two other Ichorid decks in the room. It seemed as though it wasn’t worth showing up unless you were playing that deck.
Obviously the sky wasn’t falling quite as much as we had thought, but a friend’s preparation for PT: Valencia wasn’t too reassuring. He proxied out tons of different decks, but the ones that I saw were the new flavor of Dredge, Cephalid Breakfast, Enduring Ideal, TEPS, Chase Rare, and Tron. Each of these, it seemed, was just running full throttle towards something that the opponent could do nothing about. The graveyard decks were trying to win on turn two, the ritual combo decks were trying to win on turn 3 or 4, and the others were just playing the best cards or the most expensive ones, starting as soon as possible.
Again, I was wrong. Extended right now is not this nightmare at all. I don’t really know what makes it tick, but it seems as though the massive openness has forced decks of all flavors into a position where they have to play Magic. It’s true, you might still run into the guy that is going for that first-turn kill, but the thing is that you have access to ways to make his deck a third-turn or fifth-turn kill, or no kill at all. You might be worried about lucking your way through a series of lopsided matchups, but everyone has to worry about so much that you’re going to get good shots to win against the vast majority of people you play.
I’m not trying to say that every single matchup between every deck in the format is 50/50, but I am trying to say that more matchups are closer to the 50/50 mark than the 90/10 mark. People are going to be doing big things and they’re going to be doing them fast, but you have your choice of big things to do too. When you have to navigate a sea of 40/60 and 65/35 matchups, you will be rewarded for playing well, no matter which deck you eventually decide on.
Bring A Gun To This Fight
“No matter which deck” you choose might be taking it a little bit too far. Chances are good that you don’t want to arrive at your PTQ with Raging Goblins and Lightning Elementals, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be playing four Tarmogoyfs and four Counterbalances to be able to win matches. From what I’ve seen, you need to worry about three big things, and you need to be prepared to win against any of them. You’ll likely want to try to do these things yourself, just to make it a fair fight, but you can do a lot with a skeleton.
First up, there are the big game-winners. These are cards like Enduring Ideal and combinations like Orim’s Chant plus Isochron Scepter, and they’re the Plan A of a large number of decks out there. There are also cards like Goblin Warchief that turn a deck from a pile of good cards into a streamlined machine that can kill you in a turn or two. These are the things that initially turned me off Extended, because I imagined that the format was a race to see who could do the biggest (or best) thing first. As I said above, I no longer believe that this is the case, but you’re either going to want to have the capability to win this race, or the capability to stop this from being a race to a win.
Second, there’s the big mana. The two obvious culprits in this category are the Urza’s lands and Cabal Coffers plus Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. This is another kind of a race, though maybe I should stop looking at things that way. Still, you’re trying to get your mana to jump up four or more with a single land drop, and as soon as that happens you can start smashing face. The “fair” decks in the format, such as Zoo or Mono-Blue Control, try to contain this in various ways. Zoo puts pressure on the opponent and backs that up with Vindicate or Molten Rain to make sure that the mana doesn’t get too far out of hand. The Blue Control deck simply tries to outlast the storm; Mindslavers on turn 4 or 5 can be scary, but Counterspell and Trinket Mage both give cheap answers that you can cast before it’s too late.
Third, there’s pure brutal efficiency. You’ll see this most obviously in cards like Tarmogoyf, but it’s a little more subtle in something like Tribal Flames. Well, maybe it’s not that subtle, but the point is that your cards don’t all necessarily win you the game on their own, they just might all be really really good. You’re not going to want to be fighting against 4/5s for two if you’re stuck with 3/3s for four, but you might do just fine if you’re bringing seven 1/1s instead of a 3/3.
Decks in this format all do something nutty, but there are just so many nutty things to do that you can get away with whichever one you think suits you best. In fact, you don’t even truly need to be doing these things, you might be able to get away with just stopping everyone else. Fish decks have long made their living by playing what might appear to be underpowered cards just because they had the right setup to topple the giants.
Do What You Want
This is, I feel, the real lesson that I’ve found during testing. There is no one Holy Grail (well, maybe there is, but I haven’t found it and I don’t know of anyone else who has). There is only you and your deck, and as long as your deck is reasonable, then you should be good to go. Tom LaPille has written on his blog about what he defines as a reasonable deck, and I think that it’s something that anyone trying to qualify should think about.
The basic lesson is that your deck just has to be good enough. It doesn’t need to be the best, because Wizards has been pushing us in that direction for a long time now. You don’t need to get the best matchups either, you just need to play well with a good deck. So how can you tell if your deck is reasonable?
I think that the three points I talked about above define reasonable decks in the current Extended format. You need to be able to race to something big, either in terms of cards or mana, you need to be able to just cast amazing spells every turn, or you need to be aware that you are not doing those things specifically because you are trying to stop everyone else from doing them. So you don’t need to have Tarmogoyf in your deck, you just need to understand what his presence means.
If you don’t truly believe, just look (again) at the Worlds PTQ. The two decks in the finals were not well-known ahead of time. There’s a Red/White Scepter deck lurking in there too. I’d tell you to check out Magic Online, but replays have been disabled. People are casting Profane Command, Fireballing their opponents, and regrowing the Command with Eternal Witness, and they’re doing this on their way to undefeated records.
The moral of the story is this: the Extended PTQ season is going to be a great time to play some Magic. You can dust off your old favorite (I’m wistfully thinking of Blue/Green Beacon/Opposition) and give it a go, and you might just find out that it’s something worth spending time on.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM
PS: Block Constructed?
I’ve been playing a whole ton of Lorwyn Block Constructed on Magic Online recently, both because the cost of entry was cheap and because I actually find the format entertaining. Despite the fact that there are no Block PTQs coming up, and despite the fact that I haven’t heard of any non-MTGO Block Constructed being played, I thought that people might be interested in an article (or three) on this most recent single-set format. If you want to hear about it, or if you really don’t, drop me a line via email, IM, or the forums.