Sullivan Library – Worldwake in Extended

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Wednesday, February 17th – With Worldwake making a splash in many a Constructed format, it seems that Extended has its fair share of new card goodness. OR does it? Adrian examines the results from the recent Oakland Grand Prix and Roanoke PTQ, with an eye to the impact made by the fresh set…

Coming out of the two events of the weekend, we have our first real splash of impact from Worldwake. Grand Prix: Oakland is clearly the biggest event of note, but also worth paying attention to are the results from the PTQ in Roanoke. Between the two events, we can see the beginnings of a foothold on the format from Worldwake, but it is already clear that either we’re still getting a handle on the new cards, or they just aren’t really changing the lay of the land all that much.

The Roanoke event was certainly a quieter affair. Well-known player Calosso Fuentes would fall to Michael Bennett in the Thopter/Depths mirror match (with only four spells separating their main deck). Bennett’s list was also only four spells off the version played by Adam Yurchick to the finals of the Grand Prix (the influence of the GerryT core of the deck is such that only the smallest changes seem to make any headway), though unlike in Roanoke no other decks of the archetype managed to crack the Top 8 of that event.

A search for a significant number (4+) of new cards in the Roanoke event nearly came up short, were it not for the one card that has managed to clearly mark itself as worth note: Loam Lion.

This new “Kird Ape” is an easy fit for most Zoo decks, and, in fact, was omni-present in successful versions of the deck this weekend.

If we look at all three of these decks, we’re basically looking at the so-called “Blue Zoo” that seems to have emerged as the most successful of the archetype. Having access between main and board to 4 of each Meddling Mage, Bant Charm, and Negate, these decks are able to take advantage of the Zendikar sack-lands and Knight of Reliquary to add a directly disruptive set of cards that have the virtue of being quite versatile.

Zoo decks have long been sitting pretty low on the curve, but with the Loam Lion, this becomes even more pronounced. Joby Parrish’s version shows this beautiful, with a crazy-low game one curve:

1CC: 20
2CC: 10
3CC: 8

The effort that is given to the mirror seems to be limited, in these decks, to Ranger of Eos and Umezawa’s Jitte. With Loam Lion, it seems hard to imagine a Zoo deck ever getting to a point where the Ranger isn’t able to continue to pull out gas, even if you’ve had a never-ending stream of one-drops prior to dropping it.

The existence of other Zoo decks at the event was certainly there. The old-school king of Zoo, Woolly Thoctar, was absolutely in evidence, but it was only this Blue Zoo that was able to break in, in the end. Almost certainly, this sub-archetype has to have been given a boost by Loam Lion in a way that is less relevant for other Zoo sub-archetypes. The Blue cards in the deck can potentially slightly shift the deck into more moments of aggro-control, a move that often makes a deck a weaker pure beatdown machine, often particularly weakening it against other aggressive decks. Loam Lion patches this weakness beautifully, letting the deck fully take advantage of its situation.

Here we see the awesome power of the Terastodon, neatly acting as a more useful version of Sundering Titan, with just a smidge of Angel of Despair. Sundering Titan was partly so powerful simply because it could wipe out the opponent’s ability to fight back. Terastodon can do the same thing, but also ends up making crazy combinations with Oblivion Ring to allow you to get a near double-use of the Terastodon by using the Oblivion Ring to take the elephant out, and the Terastodon to undo the Ring, knocking down many decks for the count. In another situation, Terastodon can instead wipe out your own permanents just for value, trading them in for 3/3s. While normally a card like Terastodon would be a dangerous one to play, in a deck that can cheat it into play, it is obviously phenomenal.

Petr’s deck is definitely one that I (mostly) like, though it also seems like it might have a smidge of problems, as well. Even when we’re counting Zektar Shrine Expedition as a creature (a questionable choice, that), we’re still talking about a fairly low creature count. To my mind, the three creatures we’re most used to all make a great deal of sense, but that lone Grunt is troubling, not really fitting into the kind of logic of singletons that I usually like. I imagine that it is possible that the diminishing returns on the Grunt is just so high that only one Grunt can be supported against a non-Dredge opponent, but otherwise, I have questions (though not nearly as big as the two Magma Jet).

The Searing Blaze, here, though is of real interest. I’ve generally hated cards like Searing Blaze. So often, they are there, rotting in your hand while you’re waiting to kill your opponent, but can’t. This phenomena is real enough that I’ve absolutely both watched and played in many a game where a Lash Out (or multiple) are sitting around, doing nothing, and the game would be over if it were merely some other damage source. All too often, it feels as though the games in which a Lash Out were a part of a win, it wasn’t uniquely part of a win, and another card would have done just as well.

That being said, Searing Blaze is of particular interest in Extended. This is largely because the condition that a Searing Blaze requires to be of use is so regularly a part of the format. If we look at the Top 8 of both the GP and PTQ, Searing Blaze has good targets in every deck. Creatures are a part of the actual plan of every deck. Further, as LSV found out, Searing Blaze doesn’t even care if you do the work to get your critter off of the table — it still does the damage.

I predict people are going to make the mistake of thinking of Searing Blaze as an unconditional good card, when what it really is, if you ask me, is a conditionally great card. If you’re in a format where a Red Terror-variant is of use, then Searing Blaze will be good. If not, it won’t. Expect a lot of value from this card in the current Extended…

I like Conley’s deck a lot. It does some mean things, definitely. Aven Mindcensor seems like a truly cruel card in Extended (especially if it manages to “Trap” someone), and with his deck, we actually have a deck that is making use of Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

Interestingly, though, it only uses three. There are, at times, reasons to only run three of a card. For example, as Spirit Stompy was being developed, Rashad Miller only ran three Tarmogoyf, because his deck wasn’t very good at putting cards in the yard and the metagame was such that far too often, the Goyf was a lowly Squire. Environmental restrictions such as this can sometimes restrain a card. There are reasons to play not-four of a powerful card, certainly. A card like Jace is a strange one, though. It isn’t just powerful, but it has the ability, once you’ve got it out, to get rid of extraneous copies of itself. To my mind, this says something quite clear: Conley didn’t want to draw a Jace in his opening hand.

This says a lot about Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Extended, to me. I’m going to presume that Conley did a fair amount of playtesting, even if it is possible that he didn’t necessarily do as much as he might have liked. That being said, what this means is that Jace is not simply the kind of card that you can lean on and expect it to pull your ass out of the fire. You have to work to protect it. Another way to think about it is this: 2UU is too much mana for a split card that reads: Gain 2 Life + Unsummon // Gain 3 Life + Brainstorm // Gain 5 Life + Fateseal. In order to not make it be this card, you have to have done the work to make it so. Jace, the Mind Sculptor might make four-of in some decks in Extended, but I predict that this will be rare, and his home will more likely be firmly in Standard.

Stoneforge Mystic is definitely a card I like in Conley’s deck, but it seems ill-used here. I presume that the Mystic is there to make an extra Jitte non-extraneous (and potentially provide a smidge of card advantage), but if you draw the Jitte before you draw the Mystic, you’ve just lost out. Unless this deck gains another piece of equipment, I think the one Mystic seems worse than a second Jitte.

Taken altogether, Worldwake’s impact on Extended is pretty light. If we use a (completely arbitrary) measuring system for counting how many new cards we’re seeing, counting a main deck card as “1” card, and a sideboard card as “0.75” cards, here is the full weight of Worldwake given just the Grand Prix:

Loam Lion: 8
Refraction Trap: 4.5
Terastodon: 4
Searing Blaze: 4
Jace, the Mind Sculptor: 3
Arbor Elf: 2
Stoneforge Mystic: 1
Smother: 1

29 cards total, 23 in the main decks, giving each deck an average of 2.875 Worldwake cards in them. For Extended, this is probably hardly surprising. It might even be considered pretty impressive. There really weren’t that many cards that really had much attention paid to them for the format. The economies of the game place much higher demands on cards for them to make the cut the wider the format is. So, while quite marginally mentioned cards (like the man-lands, Omnath, Joraga Warcaller, and others) were maybe too far out of their league, other cards that received more attention (like Kor Firewalker, Treasure Hunt, Abyssal Persecutor, Bojuka Bog, and particularly Halimar Depths) might have just barely missed the cut. Halimar Depths maybe deserves a special mention because of the relatively low cost to use it, mixed with the relatively high levels of attention that the card received.

In a lot of ways, the cards that were selected make a lot of sense. Loam Lion is simply just a great fit into an otherwise solid deck; Terastodon can solve problems; Searing Blaze was a metagame call; the rest only had a minimal utility, so they were minimally used. If we look at decks other than Zoo, the level of inclusion becomes fairly depressing: 15 maindeck, 1.875 on average. Alas.

For me, all of this is just brainstorm-food. When I’m building decks, I want to have a better sense of how things are put together. In big events like fifteen-round Grand Prix, decks with truly bad cards in them usually don’t make it happen. There is just too much opportunity for the value of the cards to finally catch up with the luck of the day. The inclusion of any new card is a verification of that card’s power. For those of you who are spending your time playing Extended, perhaps the good news is that you aren’t going to have to invest heavily in the new set to stay competitive, even if it does mean there is, thus far, less clear innovations that have been found.

In a way, I’ll view that as good news…

Adrian Sullivan