The Dragonmaster’s Lair – Bloodbraids and Burn

Friday, January 14th – It’s time to get aggressive in Extended. Brian Kibler has wielded plenty of burn spells in his time and recommends running Naya and Mono-Red to crush those Faeries mages.

The holiday lull for tournament Magic is officially over. After a relaxing (some might say boring) few months without major tournaments, we’re
right back in the thick of things. Extended season is in full swing, the StarCityGames.com Open Series kicked off last weekend in Kansas City with a
bang with the follow up in San Jose just around the corner, and the first Grand Prix of the 2011 season looms large in Atlanta in just a few weeks.
It’s a fine time to be a magician who enjoys shuffling up sixty-card decks, with three different formats to play in major events!

That said, I’m going to focus on Extended this week. I shared my thoughts on

Standard in video form here,

and while Legacy is a big part of the StarCityGames.com Open events, I don’t claim to have any revolutionary ideas about that format. I’ve
literally played it twice in my life, in SCG Open: LA and GP Columbus last year. I do have a small piece of advice for those of you who are in a
similar position to me and find yourself with a Legacy event on the horizon, however.

Keep it simple. Legacy is a tough format, and there’s all sort of cards and interactions you need to watch out for. Playing a complicated deck
without sufficient experience can very easily come back to haunt you. At GP Columbus, I played a CounterTop deck nearly identical to that which Tom
Martell finished second with, and I posted a stellar record of 2-2-2. In both of my draws, I had to fight to win game two to avoid losses, and one each
of my losses and wins nearly went to time as well. I spent far too much time trying to figure out how to play my deck and suffered as a result.
I’m not sure just what I’ll be playing on Sunday in San Jose, but it certainly won’t be that deck again.

So – on to Extended! I talked last week about how I felt like it
was a good time to get aggressive, and it looks like a lot of people out there agreed with me. The MTGO PTQ was won by Faeries, sure, but the Top 8 was
full of beatdown decks, including a Naya deck in the finals – and Naya also won a PTQ in Roanoke! Two PTQs this past weekend – Indianapolis
and San Diego – were both won by Mono-Red. People certainly are looking to make the life loss from Bitterblossom hurt, whether by Bloodbraid Elf
or by burn spells.

Let’s take a look at the decks. We’ll start with Naya:

These decks are pretty distinct from one another. Nathanial’s deck looks eerily close to the Naya decks we saw not long ago in Standard and not
far off from the Naya deck I talked about last week in that he’s
eschewing spells altogether with the exception of a single Basilisk Collar for the Sparkmage combo. He’s willing to be a bit riskier with his
mana for the payoff of Woolly Thoctar, but having an additional high-powered three-drop to go alongside Knight of the Reliquary just might be worth the
risk. He doesn’t have Gaddock Teeg maindeck, but he does tag in Linvala, a card that’s sure to make Cedric “Mythic is SOOOOO good”
Phillips and Elf players everywhere cry when it comes up in game one. Sun Titan is another solid bullet that can provide endless Qasali Pridemages or
Tectonic Edges, to say nothing of the raw value gained when you bring back a Knight of the Reliquary.

Buuchan’s MTGO list is a bit more peculiar and is quite obviously an Extended deck rather than something ported from Standard. His deck
isn’t quite all-in on Vengevine, with both Path and Bolt threatening to muck up Bloodbraid cascades, and his creature selection is considerably
more aggressive. Conspicuously absent is multi-format all star Knight of the Reliquary, replaced in the three spot by Boggart Ram-Gang. The reason for
the swap is quite clear when you come across the one card I feel stands out most in the deck – Figure of Destiny.  

While I understand the idea of Figure –it provides an aggressive early play that can become a serious threat as the game progresses – it
just seems so dramatically out of place in this deck to me. Figure is at its best in decks that have lots of extra mana to pump it, usually because of
ultra-low curves, like Paul Rietzl’s Amsterdam deck or Mono-Red (though we’ll get to an interesting anecdote about that in a moment). In a
deck with ten four-drops like this one? I’m just not seeing it. I’ve played against this deck online, and every time, Figure has seemed
remarkably awkward for my opponent to use. While I like a lot of what Buuchan has going on here – hell, I’m a sucker for a Vengevine deck
– it’ll take a lot to convince me that Figure is the right choice, and in particular that it’s worth ditching Knight of the Reliquary
for the consistently underwhelming Boggart Ram-Gang, especially in a deck with Elspeth. Knight sure hits a lot harder than…well, anything else
you can send to the air.

I can certainly see either of these decks matching up quite well against Faeries, though both of them rely heavily on one-toughness creatures, which
may become a liability if the maindeck Peppersmoke tech that has been showing up recently catches on widely. Even barring that, the ability to present
an aggressive position with haste creatures has always been one of the best ways to fight Faeries, and Bloodbraid and Vengevine can make countermagic
look rather silly. Both decks have solid ways to fight through Bitterblossom, either by killing it or gunning down the tokens. I think I’d want
to fit at least one Elspeth into Nathanial’s deck, especially if Naya picks up in popularity, but if nothing else, it helps your creatures leap
over Wurmcoil Engine for the kill.

These decks are a little less my speed, but I can certainly appreciate what they’re doing. I actually spent a portion of my Saturday railbirding
the San Diego PTQ Greg Hatch won, and I got to see his deck in action and talk about it with him a bit. The card that he was most pleased with was
Tattermunge Maniac. He went so far as to say that he’d often rather draw Maniac than Figure of Destiny, just because it let him use his mana
better in the early turns of the game. They can’t all be Goblin Guide, but is Maniac a closer approximation than Figure? It’s an
interesting question, and I’m curious to see if the Maniac catches on more.

While Greg Hatch’s deck is clearly just designed to pile on as much damage as fast as possible, Michael Belfatto’s is more of a
“real” deck, with creatures that are actually intended to stay in play like Plated Geopede and Boggart Ram-Gang rather than Ball Lightning
and Hell’s Thunder – and no Maniacs to be found anywhere. Both players played identical mana bases down to the four Teetering Peaks and
much the same burn suite, though Michael chose to play his Arc Trails main while Greg ‘s were in the board.

Speaking of sideboards, that’s one place these two differed dramatically. Four copies of Volcanic Fallout and some number of Koth – one for
Greg, two for Michael – were the only consensus inclusions. Greg went with a small land-destruction package in the form of Fulminator Mages while
rounding out his anti-creature burn with Arc Trail and Searing Blaze, which Michael already had in his maindeck. Michael, on the other hand, came
packing Gutterballs (aka Guttural Response) and Leyline of Punishment, neither of which I’m a huge fan of in this sort of deck, since when
you’re trying to assemble twenty damage, having anything that can be a blank when you’re ripping for the win can be a huge problem. That
said, I’m a big fan of Michael’s other sideboard card – Smash to Smithereens.

Smash is a pretty awesome card in a field where Wall of Tanglecord and Wurmcoil Engine are popular sideboard cards, since it gives you value dealing
with artifacts that might otherwise cause serious problems. Wurmcoil, in particular, is a great target for Smash. When your opponent taps out for it on
six mana, you send in your team and then Smash it after blockers are declared. Your opponent won’t gain life from the combat and won’t be
able to use his extra deathtouch blocker that he would’ve had if you’d destroyed it before combat. All in all, a sweet little card that must feel
great to get people with – boom!

It’s probably not a coincidence that a pair of Mono-Red decks won PTQs on the same weekend. That’s just the way the metagame works. I asked
Greg Hatch when I saw him the Sunday after the PTQ how many Kitchen Finks his opponents cast against him during the tournament. The answer was zero.
That may seem lucky, but let’s take a look at Nathanial’s Naya list above – not a Finks to be found, let alone an Obstinate Baloth.
The boogeyman last week was Faeries, and you can only play so many creatures that cost 1GG – a lot of people went with Stags. Next week,
I’d expect people to be much more prepared for both Naya and Mono-Red, so I wouldn’t plan to just copy one of these decks and expect to
win. Always prepare for the tournament you’re actually playing in, not the one that happened last week.  

But be sure you’re ready for these decks! Everyone who loves to hate Faeries will be thrilled to show up with Mountains and Goblin Guides, and
I’m sure there’s more than a few people out there who are salivating to Basilisk Collar up a Cunning Sparkmage one more time. So if your
pet deck is full of one-toughness creatures and weak to burn spells? Yeah, probably not the best time to break that one out.

Personally, I’m excited for this Extended format. I’ve seen all sorts of people talking about how oppressive this deck or that deck is, but
we haven’t seen anything close to the kind of dominance Dark Depths had last year. Sure, Faeries keeps putting up good results, and Jund is one
of the top decks, and those are two of the decks people have most loved to hate in recent memory, but every week we see new decks emerge and do well. I
for one am excited to see what GP Atlanta looks like next week. But first – Standard and Legacy at SCG Open: San Jose! Hope to see you there.

Until next time,