As you probably realize, this here site features a snazzy little number we like to call the deck database. Accessible on the right-hand bar, the deck database is both good way to watch the metagame – and it doubles as a catalogue for the purchasing of cards necessary for your decks. Every card in the database is linked to the catalogue, letting you view or buy anything in a deck. While this is all well and good, I’d be lying if I felt that was the best thing about the deck database for players.
The deck database, ideally, would cover a lot – if not all – of the PTQs being run all over the world. Right now I work from a limited number of sites, which will give you some insight into what’s being developed and help you prepare for both rogue and dominant decks during a PTQ season. Essentially, I centralize information so you don’t have to, which other sites do as well.
So why talk about it? It’s simple. It’s like more people to submit decks to me from their PTQ Top 8s. I’d like to get as many top eights as possible into the database over a season – both as a way for people to look over the metagame and as a way for people to get a feeling for the history of evolving decks. As this service is provided free by the site, there’s no real loss in using it to its full potential. So if you top 8 in a PTQ, ask your retailer to send in the deck lists to [email protected].
This has three benefits to you:
- First, it gets your name up in the deck database. Everyone likes seeing news of their success spread around, right?
- Second, it gets your store some additional coverage. If your retailer has a website, this will point more people towards it. The more people who go to a retailer’s website, the greater awareness of its tournaments and draft nights. That means more people to play with.
- Third, the more decks that go up the more people who read the deck database. This means more people who themselves feel inclined to send in decklists from their top 8’s. This means, more decklists for you if you send in decklists.
It’s that simple. Just try to convince your retailer, or send me a link to their site when you top 8 if they list top 8’s.
Oh – and by the way, I’d like to make a public thank you to Ben Bleiweiss, Rune Horvik, and anyone else who has the fate of typing up decklists by hand. While very few people realize it, I know how much damn frustrating work typing up decklists by hand is. Thanks, guys! You make my job a lot easier!
(As a small note, you may notice from time to time that I make stupid mistakes in the database, like accidentally putting”Pro Tour” when it was a grand prix, or stating people were 32nd place when they were actually 32-64th place. This is simply an error made while entering the decklists due to the forms involved, and is generally something I’ll get around to correcting if I notice it.)
Now onto talking about Extended:
As format of choice, Extended is probably the most diverse field I have ever been exposed to. Every major event a different deck emerges on top, and every other PTQ seems to be hinting at another change in the format. This presents a format where it’s hard to know what to play – and it creates a serious need for hard playtesting. Understanding each and every matchup that squeezes every last drop of win percentage out of your deck through tuning and innovation – or perhaps just getting lucky – is what seems to be getting people qualified.
But I’d lean more towards playtesting if I were you, since luck doesn’t favor you necessarily when you want it to.
However if you’re pressed for time, here were, in my opinion, the first tier of decks found in the Extended PTQ format before New Orleans went down :
The Big Five
Why would I declare these decks as the first tier? Is it their power that leads me to this belief? No, not really. While these are all powerful archetypes, the only reason I would present them as tier one decks is simply because these are the ones I find myself entering into the deck database over and over again. These are the ones I was seeing in top eights repeatedly – and so I would assume if you were entering a PTQ, you would probably have a fairly high chance of facing them down. While I am assured the local metagame doesn’t have a lot of ‘Tog – and your local metagame may feature such anomalies – it doesn’t hurt to be prepared and understand more of the details involved in the matchups you might face.
My statement here is that the Tier one is not about power – it’s about imagined power, and the testing involved should reflect the goal many players have of playing”the most powerful deck,” even when they do not understand the metagame all that well.
Peter Myrvig utilized a Psychatog deck at Pro Tour: Houston – however, players didn’t take this deck seriously enough. The Tog is extremely powerful – and while Myrvig’s build can look very strange to a PTQ player, he took it pretty damn far at Houston. That’s evidence of its strength.
Myrvig’s build does not run a lot of creature kill; in fact, he doesn’t run any at all. Only a trio of Boomerangs show up in the maindeck. I assume this is a metagame choice, as bouncing to hand can often be better than killing a creature when facing down Reanimator decks. He can, of course, Cunning Wish for a single Diabolic Edict in the board.
Over the PTQ season, the deck did see further play, but it never made the top eight of Grand Prix: Reims… Oh, wait. Yes it did. Silly me, the belief that”Sligh kills Tog” clouded my judgement. Anyways, here’s the build that Anton Jonsson played. While Peter’s deck is a bit more towards the classical slant, Anton is playing what some have referred to as Gush-a-tog.
Lastly we have the two newer builds which showed up in the top eight of GP New Orleans. First, we have the build used by Eugene Harvey. This deck is still purely U/B, but offers a full complement of Smothers in the main deck – an obvious nod to the power of Sligh and U/G Madness. There are also three Powder Kegs in his sideboard, and even a Wishable Terror – which I assume is there for anti-Reanimator or just killing random fatties that might happen to show up.
Then we have Mike Pustilnik’s build – which, as a nod to the previous standard season, features the addition of red in the deck to combat creature strategies. Four Fire / Ice (a beloved card) and two Pyroclasms give the deck extra oomph against weenie decks. Even U/G madness isn’t fond of being hit with a ‘clasm – although it’s not that big a deal to it.
From everything I’ve tested and tried out, I would probably say Tog is the best control deck to take to a PTQ – if you’re good with it. While Oath is probably overall the stronger of the two decks, Tog has the upper hand in a matchup against Oath. If you felt your format was dominated by U/G and Sligh, I’d go with Mikey P’s decklist or something close to it – but Harvey’s is probably generally the better deck.
I admit openly I’m not a solid control player, so you may want to look at the matches they played in the Sideboard Coverage and StarCity, then decide for yourself if the deck is right for you.
Ahhh, Sligh. Good ol’ Sligh. Nothing beats –
Wait, that’s Rock.
Sligh is about as old-school as you’re going to get in the modern era. Sure, some people play white weenie and variants thereof – but they add blue for Meddling Mage and black for Phyrexian Negator. What kind of White Weenie is that? Not very old school, if you ask me. Probably because white weenie, shadow and all, never really was all that amazing as mono-colour deck without the power of Empyrial Armor.
I should be talking more about Sligh here. Sorry.
Sligh is just, as I said, a very old archetype and almost everyone who’s played the game has been exposed to it in some fashion. Honestly, as long as you have the basic concept of”Mountain, Jackal Pup” and”If you’re at two, I’ll Shock you” you’ve probably gotten most of the strategy down pat. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t play Sligh well, or that you can just throw random red cards together.
Sligh showed up at PT Houston and I think a lot of people ignored it. There are two primary versions of Sligh running around:
Goblins (this version, played by Matthew Ranks, runs blue for Annul and Gilded Drake in the sideboard), and of course the cute Red Deck Wins that won Reims.
Reims is considered by some to be the breakout for Sligh. While Red Deck Wins, which won it, remains the same almost every time I see it, Mello and Caumes both played different versions of Goblins.
The generally accepted vision here is that while Goblins is faster and more dangerous, RedDeckWins is more robust in the late game and makes better use of mana screwing your opponent. Kai Budde wrote an article talking about Sligh builds right after Reims – and while I’m sure almost anyone who reads this has read that as well, if you haven’t I think it’s worth checking out.
After Reims, with the increase in Sligh being played (thousands of beatdown players being told it’s”okay” to play Sligh because it top 8’d at Reims will do that), U/G Madness began to show up in increasing amounts. Since I was watching the database, I could almost see Sligh players being annoyed by the giant ruthless green men charging onto the format. So what did they do?
Well, as you can see, some players added Flametongue Kavu (who I’ll talk about more later) and Terminates to their maindeck and sideboards before New Orleans went down.
At New Orleans, Sligh did pretty well – although it didn’t quite produce the performance that it did at Reims. That may, however, simply be because fewer people played it. I don’t know, though, but Sligh made up 22 out of 386 players at New Orleans and 7 out of 64 day two players. You do the math, since I suck at it.
And of course, there’s a new build to look at: Trey Van Cleave’s somewhat modified version of Red Deck Wins – which features, of all things, two maindeck Flametongues and another in the board. Zounds.
Flametongue Kavu is a card you should make sure you have a full four of. Why? Because it’s a good answer to Arrogant Wurm, and as the format gets becomes more slanted towards a U/G field, it focuses on slightly more midrange beat down decks – which FTK is a longstanding supreme answer to. If you’re going to take a Sligh deck to a qualifier or whatever, I would definitely take Van Cleave’s version – as while the previous incarnation of RedDeckWins is great, there’s just no reason not to take at least FTK in your board.
Yeah I know. I’m saying FTK is good. Against U/G. Shocking! But seriously, pack those Kavus.
When Jeff Cunningham took this to Pro Tour Houston, people said… Stuff. Everyone has already said this. We get the point.
Anyway, U/G madness is an extremely powerful, adaptable metagame call which is going to be around, like Tog, for a long time. Buy those cards and don’t trade them off, ‘cuz Torment ain’t cycling out of Extended for a long time.
Cunningham’s U/G Madness from Pro Tour: Houston features a number of interesting cards compared to his later version. There’s no Waterfront Bouncers in the maindeck, no Merfolk Looters in the sideboard, nine counterspells and three Roar of the Wurms.
Whether Cunningham designed the deck to face the metagame or simply came up with a better version later on, I don’t know. But we do have his New Orleans deck to take a good look at. The differences are a product of both refinement and considerations bent to handling the mirror. One less counterspell, Bouncers in the main, Spellbane in the sideboard and … again, no Merfolk looters. This surprises me, but I’ve been told by better players that if you play U/G as aggro-control and not aggro, you will probably not do as well.
Quoted from an article on The Sideboard during NO coverage, Cunningham said this:
“It played like a Fish deck, but with serious threats instead of 1/1’s. It’s ultra-aggressive, and he believes that’s a big mistake that players are making, treating it like a mid-range deck. He particularly mentioned that you often just pitch cards, good cards mind you, for extra damage from Wild Mongrel and Aquamoeba. He decries versions of the deck that try to run Merfolk Looter. It’s simply too slow. If you try to play the control deck, you’ll just end up outclassed by the better control cards out there. You have to hit early and hit often.”
I’m surprised by his remarks, which is why I point this out. However, he’s the guy who does the best with it, so you may want to pay attention to what he says.
Also showing up at New Orleans was the RUG version of the deck, which unfortunately did not as well as the pure U/G strain. If you’re wondering why these decks added Red, my thought is simply this : The Mirror.
Mirror matches of U/G are generally about bounce. As both players have access to much the same resources, it’s who gets the Waterfront Bouncer down and in control first that often decides how the match goes. So during testing, I am pretty sure people may have decided the ability to Fire a Bouncer and Flametongue an Arrogant Wurm (hopefully in that order) would be pretty good. Fire is good in other matchups, of course. FTK might not be as good, but it’s certainly not bad against other creature decks.
However the results don’t stand up – but that might just be a matter of the format or lack of refinement to an emerging variant. I don’t know. While it was becoming obvious to me during playtesting, I wasn’t actually playing U/G and so didn’t bother to try RUG, so I am not so sure on this variant.
TurboOath won Pro Tour: Houston in the hands of Justin Gary (yes, you know). Then at Reims, Ruud Warmenhoven took it to 11th with his version of Scrounger-Oath. Oath is, of course, considered a rock solid deck, and did show up at PTQs – apparently winning twice in YMG qualifiers (look at Dougherty’s articles on the Sideboard for those, although they are in the deck database too)
TurboOath appears in the top 16 of New Orleans, played by one Matt Noble (This guy and Trey Van Cleave have such awesome names. I am jealous). This is his version, which looks a fair bit like Gary’s version while sporting a few Duresses in his sideboard.
There are two major decisions made in Oath design. First, some decks don’t bother splashing for the black, and rely on maindeck powder kegs. Both Warmenhoven’s version and Brian Lynch’s (who qualified at YMG) version do this. Then, some players rely on Cognivore, while others rely on Scrounger paired with Phantom Nishoba.
I admit I’m not exactly an experienced Oath player, having probably seen more of the deck back a few years ago this day and age. However, I would probably say The Scrounger without black version is better against a field with more Sligh, while the Pernicious Deed version with Cognivore is probably better in formats with less Sligh and more U/G. Both versions, of course, aren’t so good against other Tog decks, but Matt Noble did sport some Duresses in his sideboard, which may have been designed to help boost against the Tog match up. Assuming you can find people to playtest against, though, I would definitely go more with your playtesting results (playtest! playtest!) than what I’m saying.
Also showing up at GP New Orleans was the curious Kibler Oath, which supports black instead of blue (or blue/black) to go with green. Now, I’d love to talk about this deck – but I’ve been busy doing the database and sleeping in ’til two in the afternoon, so I haven’t playtested against it like, at all. So I’ll keep my mouth shut. Apparently this deck is hard to play, so seriously, if someone writes about it, make sure you know they actually know how to play it. There’s also W/G Oath, but again I know nothing.
Ah, the Rock. A favorite of many a player, this charming B/G deck is beloved by all – for, among other things, actually playing Spiritmonger when he barely showed up in Standard, having a card that acts a lot like Ancestral Recall, and being a control deck that actually plays permanents and doesn’t win with cards like Oath of Druids or Upheaval, which are just stupidly powerful
Well okay, Deed is pretty good too. But I’m biased.
The Rock is also my favorite deck these season – although due to insomnia, a guy’s wife not wanting me to go along with them, and weather, I managed to miss three out of three qualifiers I could have gone to. I am a real winner when it comes to going to qualifiers – hoboy.
Darwin Kastle and many others took this deck to Pro Tour Houston. Kastle’s deck, found here, is in and of itself the perfect metagame call. It’s fast, it has no dead cards against control, it has lots of Edicts and lots of disruption.
It has no Ravenous Baloths (though there are four in the board), no Spike Feeders, no Wall of Blossoms and four Vampiric Tutors. It is the perfect metagame call for Houston, but I wouldn’t play this at a Grand Prix or a qualifier. Neither did he. There’s good reason for that. Lots of Rock was played at Houston. People said Rock was the best deck in the format after Houston. Rock is very hyped. Over-hyped, if you ask me, but I still play it.
At Reims, again, the Rock showed up in fair numbers; it didn’t do as well. Bram Snepvangers’ version finished highest at Reims, with Kai Budde version also finishing in the top 32. Kai Budde added red to his, which he later on said he didn’t like.
People, however, apparently did. Red did show up in PTQ decklists after Kai’s introduction, although. I myself took a fancy to Red, and I’ll post my decklist and thoughts after I finish talking about the Rock.
The Rock did, well… Not so good at New Orleans. Sligh, U/G Madness, Oath, Tinker, Angry Ghoul, and – well, just about everything – finished ahead of it. Gerard Fabiano finished 18th with his version. His version is pretty unorthodox if you’ve been watching PTQ versions of the Rock, sporting three maindeck Smothers, no Terror or Terminates, a maindeck Genesis (which damn well should be there) and Bone Shredder, and so on. This is a very interesting looking build of the deck, and there’s lots of other different versions to be found in the database.
What went wrong with the Rock? It may simply be that the Rock is stretched too thin during design when facing so many archetypes. In testing, I have found Treetop Village is bad against U/G and Sligh – but you need them against Oath. Terror is excellent against Sligh, U/G and again, Oath – but it’s horrible against Suicide Black (a good match up anyways) and Tog (a matchup where either Terminate or Smother shine). Baloth is great against Sligh, good against U/G, bad against other decks.
And so on. The format is very diverse, which makes it hard to build a deck around silver bullets and”reaction” cards.
This is my version of the Rock, which I had ready for a qualifier on the 4th of January. I unfortunately did not attend, although I wasn’t all that hyped up to go anyway. Part of me thinks I should play U/G, but I don’t have all the cards and for some reason I loathe boring U/G decks. Oh yeah, everyone else was playing it too, so I couldn’t borrow those cards. I’ll be sure to order Bouncers and Submerges the next time I get cards from StarCityGames – heh!
2 Vampiric Tutor
2 Ravenous Baloth
2 Cabal Therapy
4 Yavimaya Elder
1 Flametongue Kavu
3 Living Wish
4 Pernicious Deed
4 Wall of Blossoms
4 Birds of Paradise
1 Bloodstained Mire
4 Llanowar Wastes
1 Dust Bowl
1 Sulfurous Springs
3 Karplusan Forest
3 Treetop Village
2 Buried Alive
2 Engineered Plague
1 Ravenous Baloth
2 Cabal Therapy
2 Flametongue Kavu
1 Crypt Creeper
1 Thrull Surgeon
1 Treetop Village
My thoughts are pretty much as follows: I don’t really like the Red, but Terror is dead against Tog and you already do pretty bad against U/G. FTK is, as I’ve said, really important when facing down U/G decks. This is especially true because you may not be able to catch their Arrogant Wurms with a Deed. FTK will take down a wurm, kill something else, and your opponent doesn’t want to Bouncer or Submerge him very much. That match up isn’t all that good with the Flametongues – and without, oy vey.
Baloth is better than Feeder against U/G. From my experiences Baloth is generally the better card, especially since using your Feeder to counter up a Treetop Village isn’t so great against Tog decks, especially ones that run Smother. If you’re deciding the mirror match up with Treetop Villages you aren’t maindecking Genesis, which means you’re out of date. In fact, the other guy might have Haunting Echoes anyway, and Villages die to Deed/Terror/Terminate just fine. That’s my opinion, and it’s heavily arguable; your mileage may vary.
Cabal Therapy is so damn good. Seriously. I stripped the maindeck of them and found myself boarding them in over and over again during testing. If you nail the Arrogant Wurms and Bouncers out of a U/G player’s hand, or a Meddling Mage against Fiends/White Weenie (locking off Deed is a harsh sentence), or against control post-Duress hit multiples and sack a Wall of Blossoms, you’re gold. It’s a great card. Since Wall dies to your Deeds, you honestly would be surprised how much I liked that”free” activation on flashing it back.
Treetop Village has screwed my tempo in so many games against U/G and Sligh that I stripped one out of the main deck. When you’re racing to survive against those decks and you lose because you couldn’t pay the Daze mana, couldn’t Deed for five, or couldn’t get the Baloth down on turn 4, well… You’ll want to tear up your villages and set them on fire too.
I used to run Burning Wish over Living Wish. Perish was good against U/G, Echoes and Buried Alive are good against the mirror, and Living Death is fabulous at the times it would be without showing up and choking up my hand. Pyroclasm is, well, Pyroclasm. It’s not like your birds ever live against Sligh anyway (perhaps it should be Earthquake, though). But I didn’t find it better than Living Wish, since it was mainly a tool for the mirror which isn’t going to show up as much. You may, however, want to try out Burning Wish in your testing, next year, whatever.
I like the Rock, but I find it’s stretched too thin to do all that well. Future builders may simple have to look for more universal cards and less”great in this, dead in this” cards. Smother, however, is probably something I’ll have to test and so on. You’ll see lots of it in the last few qualifiers, though.
And that’s my thoughts on the Big Five. Of course, I should point out that of the Big Five, Oath and Rock did not make the Top Eight of New Orleans. However, in all honesty, I don’t believe you’re going to see a lot of Turboland in the following PTQs. It’s a very powerful deck (duh) but I don’t think a lot of people are going to be able to play it well. Tinker was dismissed after a dismal performance at Houston, and while Morgan Douglass has been playing it for a while, I’ve never tested against it.
So, I offer you this : If you can’t find enough literature on a deck, find someone who knows it and test against them. The internet is a big place, and again for the love of God, playtest your damn decks. So much is realized just playing a couple of matches.
And now, a brief rant on R&D and the colour”White” (no further strategy follows):
I was disappointed by the lack of White decks at New Orleans – but you can’t argue (at least not very well) against results. However, there is something very true of Houston, of Reims, of all the PTQs and of New Orleans. While White isn’t actually showing up in great numbers, something is.
That is, variety. I’ve been beaten over the head for years by things like how Tempest was too fast, Shadow is abusive, Urza’s Saga was too comborific, Masques sucks, Invasion was great, R&D has it”right” now and the cards aren’t”overpowered” and so on.
And they’re wrong. (Mostly: Invasion IS great) Extended is a success beyond my wildest expectations. You got decks that can win on turn what, three? And yet those aren’t the ones that dominated the format. Every Grand Prix and Pro Tour, a new deck comes out on top – and we’re constantly reminded of the fact that, you know what, maybe Tempest wasn’t too fast and maybe Urza’s wasn’t as bad as people think it was. The big break outs in this format aren’t Tempest- and Urza- fueled: They’re from Odyssey and Invasion, sets that people claim R&D developed a lot better.
While it’s true that Extended is great and yes, R&D is doing a great job with both extended and standard (limited, on the other hand, is an arguable issue) they may seriously want to give thought to how they’re going about it. These are decks which are formed from primarily recent cards and are very powerful, meaning at the next rotation – or just in general – that while the formats are healthier, they still have a ways to go. The attitude that it’s not powerful decks, but powerful cards that break formats, just isn’t true.
Sure, Extended isn’t broken. But when you have a deck like U/G Madness that has managed to stretch over three formats in a year, people are going to begin getting annoyed. Variety is the spice of the game, and building the decks for us seems to lead to building decks with too much internal synergy and not enough exploitable weaknesses. They don’t change. They don’t grow with changing formats. I’d rather see cards banned than play against U/G for month after month.
Extended and Standard, however, are very healthy. But I think they need to broaden their synergies a little more like Invasion and less like the graveyard/discard usage in Odyssey and the tribal themes in Onslaught, which simply do not allow for enough innovation between variants of decks.
As for White, maybe they’ll get it right this year. Maybe next. Maybe it’s better than we think and we’re just not good enough to see the secretly good white-core builds that can be built out of the 3000 cards in extended.
StarCityGames’ deck database editor, Featured Writer, and there’s no dinosaurs in that book.
Special thanks to Carl Jarrell, who I playtest with a lot, listens to me rant way too much, helped out with this article, and is just generally a swell guy. Thanks, man!