PV’s Playhouse – Examining the MTGO Extended PTQs

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Dallas/Fort Worth!
Thursday, January 7th – The PTQ season has progressed to Extended, and the early results prove that a multitude of strategies are viable. Paulo takes a look at the two Top 8s from recent Online PTQs, and shares his thoughts on the decks’ strengths and weaknesses. If you’re looking to pick up a Blue Envelope in the coming weeks, let PV guide the way!


Today I am going to talk about the Top 8 decks from the MTGO Extended PTQs. At first, I was going to talk about the StarCityGames.com Los Angeles Open weekend, but then I took a look at the decks, and, well, it’s basically the same decks as always. LSV’S deck is good, a lot of Jund, the Mono Green deck is well built as far as Mono Green goes but I still don’t think it’s good, and so on. Then there is Legacy, which I don’t know enough to talk about… that leaves me with Extended.

For this article, it’s same deal as with the others of this type – this is my impersonal and honest opinion on those decks, not related to the authors in any way (and apart from Calcano, I have no clue who they are anyway). Feel free to disagree, and tell me why with reasonable arguments. Comments like “how dare you criticize my friend Josh’s deck,” or “lol dude, if this deck was as bad as you say it is it wouldn’t have done this well” will be promptly ignored.

So, there were two tournaments following each other immediately – I will analyze both. First, though, the big picture. To me, Extended right now is defined by UW Tezzeret, Scapeshift, Fast Zoo, and big Zoo (which can be either Saito’s or Kibler’s – I personally like Saito’s build more). Then there is AIR, which I think is terrible but people seem to like, and a surprising resurgence of Dark Depths, at least in those online tournaments (it was almost nonexistent at Worlds). Basically, to me, an Extended deck has to have a shot versus Big Zoo if it wants to compete, as well as having a fair game versus most of those decks. That said…

Calcano probably hates me, since I never like his decks, but I have to say I don’t like it this time either (though the other time it ended up being better than I thought). I don’t like the concept; I’ve never really liked Doran as a deck, and in this format I like it even less, since Zoo’s creatures (Knight, Baneslayer) are actually bigger than yours. He gets to play nine removal spells, but so do the Zoo decks if they want to, and much better spells at that – Bant Charm deals with Dark Depths (and, well, instants), Punishing Fire gives you a completely different kind of game, and Putrefy and Pulse are, well, not that exciting. It’s a question of whether the discard is worth it, and I don’t think it is. Negate out of the sideboard for example is much, much better than Duress. His deck seems like it would have a lot of trouble with Punishing Fire from Rubin Zoo, and it doesn’t seem fast enough to give trouble to the control and combo decks, as well as having a manabase that is kind of susceptible to Blood Moon. It is also a deck that attempts to trade one-for-one all day long, but has no way to actually gain any advantage by doing that (unless your Dark Confidant stays in play). It is not like you are playing the old Gifts Rock decks where you have discard, spot removal, and then Gifts for Genesis. With this deck, you discard, you remove, and then you are in topdeck mode just as they are, except you have a lot more dead cards than most decks, and your spells are not nearly as powerful as what they can topdeck.

As far as individual card choices go, I don’t like the Profane Command. It doesn’t actually kill anything you might want to kill in this format, and to me it looks like trying to solve the “no card advantage” problem, but just not good enough for this environment. I don’t like Duress in this deck either. Creatures are so good nowadays that the -2 life from Thoughtseize seems worth it the vast majority of the time. I think I would also play more Putrefies than Pulses (possibly 4-0 or 4-1), but that is a somewhat moot point.

Regarding the Sideboard, COP: Red seems good versus AIR, but I don’t understand Forge-Tender – what is it expecting to accomplish? It is not even that good versus Burn, since the only two cards that care about a blocker are Goblin Guide and Keldon Marauders, and you’ll usually have to pay 2 to play this in time to block Goblin Guide anyway, so it’s already kind of done its job – if you want something else versus Red, I’d rather have like Celestial Purge, which is good versus AIR too (which is also a much more popular deck than Burn, at least in real life), as well as being really good against Dark Depths. Gaddock Teeg is a card I really like in this format, and I would definitely maindeck it in a deck like this (which is yet another reason to say bye to the Profane Command). Meddling Mage seems sub-optimal, as there are only eight sources for it, plus four Hierarchs, which in itself wouldn’t be a problem if the card was awesome, but it is not. I understand that Rubin Zoo plays Meddling Mage, but if you are playing Black, you have access to better or equivalent cards in the form of Extirpate, Cranial Extraction, more discard, even Bitter Ordeal – all that without risking having them uncastable in your hand. Also important to note that you have seven lands that do not cast Meddling Mage at all, and three of them are Treetops, which presents a conflict of interests. You want to play those first, but then you delay Meddling Mage by a whole turn and it might be too late.

I’d stay away from this deck. I think it is neither fast enough nor good enough to justify playing over Zoo. Black gives you no creature that is better than Knight of the Reliquary and no removal that is better than Bant Charm, and there is no reason for playing it, especially if you are going to play Meddling Mages anyway. If you really want to play Dark Confidant, it seems to me that some sort of Dark Speed Zoo is your best bet.

I sure hope this guy has his nick on Control C, because if he ever has to type it in… I know, I know it’s “in order”, but still…

I have to say I really like the way this deck is constructed – it runs the best quick creatures and the best spells, the end. It has Path, Tribal Flames, and Reliquary to deal with the bigger guys. It also gets to run Gaddock Teeg, which is criminally underplayed now, as it presents a lot of trouble to both Scapeshift and Tezzeret. This would not be my choice of Zoo, since I like Saito’s approach better, but it seems like a very fine choice of Fast Zoo.

The sideboard, though, is very random. I am not opposed to one-ofs when they add strategic value, but this seems thrown together. The Dredge hate, for example – there is no way playing Ravenous Trap is correct in here, since you have Gaddocks and you want them in play – and Jailer doesn’t seem very good either, because you don’t need a card that wins the game by itself, you only need something that buys you time, so it’s better if it’s harder to deal with. You don’t want your answer Darkblasted, and they will have Darkblast versus you. It seems you are better with just Crypts, and Relic if you really feel the need to diversity. 1 Kataki seems totally unnecessary, and 1 Jotun Grunt is pretty funny but might not be that bad. 1 Ghost Quarter is understandable, and I might even try to find a way to put this main if I were to play this deck, since it seems Dark Depths is popular again.

Oblivion Ring looks good in the sense that it is a good answer versus AIR, and also that it is a Baneslayer removal that you don’t mind drawing if they don’t actually have the Baneslayer against Tezzeret – I think I would play two of them, over the Slay. Ranger, I have mixed feelings about… the Zoo mirror is just not as much of an attrition war as it used to be, in the sense that one creature is now better than multiple creatures, so if you leave the attrition war phase of the game and you have a Ranger and they have a Baneslayer, they are actually in better shape. Since this deck has a lot of removal for the Angel, though, and I kind of like the idea.

It is possible, of course, that the player actually developed side-in and side-out strategies that explain all this, such as “I want a random body versus deck X so I board in Jailer and Kataki too,” but I really wouldn’t play either of them.

I like this version slightly less. To me, Helixes and Knights are more important than Grunts and Molten Rains in this format, since it’s pretty creature defined. Though I like Molten Rain, you can’t really play that plus Knight, because of the curve, and you can’t really play that plus Helix, because that’s not enough guys, so I like the Knight/Helix configuration better.

I can’t help but simply hate this deck. I think that, as far as a burn deck goes, they are well built, but you will just never get me to play Burn. I am not the kind of person who says “beatdown is for n00bs” – I understand that there is A LOT of skill in playing it properly. This deck, not so much… you don’t really have anything to do other than hope to draw more burn than their life total, in every game of every match. I hate this feeling of not having any control. Don’t get me wrong, if the deck is very good, I will play it. For example, Cascade Swans was a deck that most of the time didn’t care how well you played because you simply couldn’t do anything wrong with the one spell you drew, but I still played it because I thought it was the best deck for that tournament. Burn is not nearly that good to make me throw away any kind of play advantage I have.

Unsurprisingly enough, I like this deck. In a format where fast Zoo is the most popular deck (Austin), it is not good enough, but in a format where Big Zoo is as common as it is now, this is actually really good. Bitterblossom becomes much better when their threat is Baneslayer rather than when it is Steppe Lynx. It beats Scapeshift and Tezzeret, and it has decent game versus the aggro decks, so it’s definitely a deck I can see myself playing, and might be my choice for a future event if Mono Red Burn doesn’t become very popular.

I also like the build better than Takahashi’s, though there are not that many differences, but I approve of the one that exists (I simply don‘t understand three Visions). The only thing I don’t really like is Repeal, as I don’t see what they do for you. You don’t care about non-creatures, as you have counters and Command, and you don’t really want to dig into anything. You will also have to deal with anything you bounced later, so I’d rather just remove the creature with Doom Blade. Imagine, for example, that your opponent plays Goblin Guide. You Repeal it, draw a card, but have to use that card to deal with it later anyway, and it‘s probably going to cost more than the Goblin Guide did, so it‘s better to just kill it. There is only one thing Repeal does that removal doesn’t, and that is bouncing Blood Moon for a turn, but I think the deck has enough basic lands to operate under it, and it is not that common anyway. If Blood Moon is really popular where you play, you might want to keep the two Repeals, but I am not comfortable with less than three spot removal spells, and I would prefer four. For that, I would probably cut a Spell Snare and a Jitte, though I would really try playing without the Repeals at first to see how it goes.

The sideboard seems decent; it’s just a bunch of generic answers, other than the dredge hate. There is probably a better focused sideboard available, but if you don’t know what you are facing, this seems good enough. I specifically like Deathmark right now, and I think Archmage is not very good. Something like the fourth Thoughtseize and a Negate or Shadow of Doubt is probably better.

This is my favorite kind of Zoo, and there isn’t much to criticize since it’s almost the same as Saito’s, and I’m always a fan of Saito’s work. I like Umezawa’s Jitte now, if the format becomes as creature-based as it seems to be. I think the sideboard has a little bit too much Dredge hate – it doesn’t seem to be very popular nowadays, and I think you will probably do fine with 4-5 hate cards, and the other two can probably become Celestial Purges, Gaddock Teegs, or something similar. I also think this deck must play one Ghost Quarter somewhere, with the resurgence of Dark Depths and all.

This is another deck I don’t like. I swear I don’t have anything against the color Red, it’s just that… I hate this kind of deck, a deck where you look at your opening hand and can predict with certain accuracy if you are going to win the game or not (unless the answer is always yes). I also hate decks that depend on the opponent not drawing the right cards. This is both. Even if you get a very good draw – with turn 1 Blood Moon and turn 2 creature, for example – there is nothing that is stopping your opponent from drawing a Plains (or fetching it turn 1, or going Forest, Hierarch) and then Pathing your guy, and then there is absolutely nothing you can do about it! You are pretty much in the hands of fate – either they draw their cards, and in this case you will lose, or they don’t and you have a game.

I also don’t like that the decision power with this deck is pretty much guessing most of the time. Most of your choices include which spell you play on turn 1 or 2, and that choice can be the difference between winning and losing (i.e. you can go for turn 1 Blood Moon and then find out you are playing against Red or some sort of combo and you needed to play the guy, or you can go for turn 1 guy to have them play Fetchland into Path), and it’s a choice you will make blindly most of the time, since you don‘t know what they are playing, and even if you do, you don‘t know their hand. It’s not really a choice but a guess, and I hate that.

As far as the build goes, it’s pretty standard. There’s not much room for variation, and not much to say about it.

Such a beautiful deck… I wonder where it came from!?

Anyway, I obviously like those builds, since they are almost the same as the one I played. The reason I thought this deck would fall off radar was because of three main things:

a) Blood Moon became more popular.
b) Bant Charm became more widely played.
c) Tezzeret was considered by some “the best deck,” and it has a good matchup versus this.

There is a small d), and that is UB Faeries. Apparently those are not big enough reasons, though, and are surpassed by the reasons to actually play this deck, which are basically burn and Scapeshift, two good matchups, and Zoo can also be good depending on what they have. If they have Kibler’s board, then it is tough, but people seem to have been driven away from those. Of those Zoo players, for example, most didn’t have Ghost Quarter maindeck, and one didn’t have it anywhere, even though he had Knights to search for it. I predict from now on people will go back to playing Ghost Quarters, and this won’t be as good anymore.

Also interesting to note that Demonic_Penguin (aren’t these people creative with nicknames!) made Top 8 in both events with the same list.

I consider Affinity to be the worst deck in Extended, and I have no clue how this guy won the tournament. I know people are going to come and post “but he went 11-0 blah blah,” but the deck is just… bad.

There are two big problems that I have with Affinity, and they are kind of the same. First, it is completely vulnerable to hate. If people want to beat it, they will, and you can’t do anything to stop them. Now that in itself wouldn’t be the end of the world – Dredge is the same in this respect – but the difference is that, when people don’t want to beat Dredge, they lose to it, and when people don’t want to beat Affinity, they beat it anyway!

Every new Extended format I come up with an Affinity list, and it takes me an average of three matches to completely throw it away. This is usually when I am empty handed and draw Ornithopter, Arcbound Worker, Frogmite, Springleaf Drum… pretty much any card in my deck that is not Thoughtcast. The deck plays a lot of bad cards with the pretext that it has synergy to make up for it, but what is your synergy? Playing a 4/4 for 2? People already do that for 1G and they don’t have to play vanilla 1/1s and 2/2s and 0/2s for it. Turn 1 double Frogmite? Well, they have Nacatl, and 6 cards left in hand to your two. I’ve always hated Affinity, but with the advent of new creatures that are getting bigger and bigger, it pretty much killed all the remaining reasons to play it.

If I am going to lose to hate, I’d better play a deck that is really powerful when it doesn’t get hated (Dredge), and if I’m going to draw cards that do nothing, they’d better do something really good when they come in the right order (Elves), and Affinity is neither – it is all the problems of all the decks in Magic, with no benefits.

I think Saito’s Zoo is just a better version of this deck, so I don’t really see myself playing this. Ignoring that, though, I really think it should play the full 4 Bant Charms, probably over a Spell Snare and a Qasali. As far as the sideboard goes, I am not a fan of 4 Chalices, unless they are good against something other than Hypergenesis that I am missing. If Hypergenesis is your only concern, you should probably play something like Negate, which is also good versus them but better versus Scapeshift and Thopter. I would also like to play at least a couple of Gaddock Teegs, since, as I’ve already said, I think it’s pretty good in this format, likely over the Bant Charms that I’d move to the main deck.

I don’t know what to say about this deck. Part of me wants to just skip it and pretend I’ve missed it, since I haven’t played with or against anything remotely similar in this format. It doesn’t strike me as a particularly powerful deck. It was okay when the Loam engine existed, and now without it it’s not as easy to break parity from Death Cloud. It is very much a metagame deck, and if everyone plays creatures (as they seem to be) it might not be that bad, though this deck will probably just lose to something like Scapeshift every time that you don’t draw Cranial Extraction (while not winning every time you do draw it).

I still think Thoughtseize is much better than Duress, especially in a deck with life gain, so I would definitely make the full swap. I don’t really understand Maelstrom Pulse in the sideboard. I’d rather have something cheaper, since it seems to be there to kill only creatures; Deathmark comes to mind. Other than that, I don’t really know. Perhaps a silver bullet or two for Primal Command, but nothing really comes to my mind that is not Jailer, and paying five to tutor for that is just way too expensive.

Baranina made few changes to the build we played at Worlds, and to what LSV later recommended, but I have to say I don’t like them. The most screaming one is 3 Thirst for Knowledge. If you cut a card at random from the deck to add the fourth Thirst, as long as it is not the one Sword of the Meek, you will be making a big improvement. No, seriously. Thirst is just insane in this deck, since it lets you play Control while at the same time digging for your combo if you have to, and presents a use to the useless bullets that you happen to draw, as well as the dead cards in the matchups that don’t play creatures. Play four Thirsts.

Finks is decent against Speed Zoo, but not very good against anything else, and not even that good against the Zoo decks that will have Path for it, since you have no other targets. I’d rather play Mana Leaks, which are good versus everything and deal with some of the Zoo threats better than Finks does. Since I’d have no Finks, I’d also not have the Oran-Rief, opting for a Ghost Quarter instead, basically turning his list into our Worlds list.

The last of our decks is somewhat cute, but I don’t think the Slivers actually pull their weight. I mean, you could be playing 3/3s for G. If you have two Sinew Slivers they become just the same, but dependant on each other to survive and costing twice as much. This list seems to be lacking Path to me. As it is, it needs to double team to deal with Baneslayer Angel or a Deus of Calamity, and those are two threats that you really don’t want to leave unanswered, both relatively common in this format. Other than that, this deck looks like it’s a real dog to Dark Depths… I think you really need those Paths. Four Chrome Moxes seems very excessive to me, especially in a deck that only has Dark Confidant for card advantage.

If you really want to play Slivers, you should probably play some more of them. Cautery Sliver was probably the best one in line, but got much worse with the M10 rules change – not that it was very good to begin with. The card I think this deck should play is Mutavault, which is probably the best Sliver legal in Extended. Having a Man Land is never bad, and, contrary to Treetop + Meddling Mage, you don’t really want to get the Vault in there as soon as possible, so it doesn’t conflict much with Scullers and Helixes. Four Umezawa’s Jittes is also excessive, and again I am not a fan of Kitchen Finks. I would probably remove one Jitte, two Helix/Bolt, two Mox, one Finks and one land for four Paths and three Mutavaults, bringing the land count to 23/2 as opposed to 20/4. If there is a good one-drop, I wouldn’t mind cutting the Finks altogether… maybe Figure of Destiny?

The sideboard is a bit weird… Duergar Hedge-Mage is a Viridian Shaman, and I am not sure the format needs it. Terminate is worse than Path, but if you main deck four already then it might not be that bad, though it has to fight for a slot with Deathmark. Canonist seems to be in the wrong format altogether (I mean, other than All-In-Red, who wants to play multiple spells a turn that badly?), and Duress seems fine but might be too much disruption. You don’t want to leave them in topdeck mode and start drawing Duresses yourself. Basically, the whole sideboard can be reworked. Celestial Purge and COP: Red are good choices, depending on your format. I don’t really know what else you want, but I know you don’t want all those cards in there.

So, this concludes my review for those tournaments! I think the biggest disappointment was Scapeshift. I think it was played a lot and didn’t really deliver, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad (just like Affinity winning doesn’t mean it’s not the worst deck in the format), and I think it is still a real deck. The biggest surprise was Dark Depths, which all but resurged from the Catacombs to claim three slots. Key points in this article:

Bant Charm is really good right now.
Gaddock Teeg is really good right now.
– You should probably play Ghost Quarter if you have a way to find it.
Celestial Purge is not a bad sideboard card and no one even considers it.
– If you want to play creatures, ask yourself whether they are better than Knight of the Reliquary or Baneslayer

If I had to play a tournament now, I would probably play UB Faeries, though Tezzeret is not a null possibility.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. See you in two weeks!