After doing quite a lot testing in preparation for world I feel that I understand the extended meta to a reasonable extent. Unfortunately the fact that I have worked on the format and built decks means that I’m not really willing to give out loads of hot new decks.(after worlds I will detail my two quite interesting decks) That said what I can do is explain a little how I went about building decks for the format in general and cards and strategies shape the format. I aim to provide people with a starting point for developing their own decks or at least a greater understanding of how others build decks.
The Shape of the Format
There are three main things to consider when building a deck for Extended.
1: There is a lot of graveyard hate. This means people with play with maindeck Leyline of the Void. Although fewer decks have it main now; this is mostly because they can play Tormod’s Crypt instead. It is not unreasonable to play these maindeck if you can search for them, and decks like Affinity might well have up to four maindeck just because it is a zero-mana artifact.
2: Speaking of artifacts, these permanents get a lot of hate too with people still running maindeck Kataki, War’s Wage in their aggro decks. Then after sideboard you can certainly expect people to bring in Ancient Grudge if they can cast it, and a lot of decks play a lot of colors precisely for these sorts of sideboard cards.
3: While the first two are important and tackle key issues such as avoiding splash damage, you still need to be careful that your deck isn’t missing the basics: if the deck powerful enough? Extended has a lot of very powerful cards available, and decks tend to be very focused. Either you need to get on with it and kill them as quickly as possible, or more likely you need to have relevant disruption. This presents a big problem for a slow controlling deck, as you need to stop both the fast aggro deck and the fast combo deck from beating you, which will often require a different set of cards.
So what does this all mean? Ideally, you will build a powerful deck that doesn’t use the graveyard or have any artifacts. Of course, this is easier said than done… but I can certainly give you some starting points. One of the simplest ways to build a new deck is pick some colors and build an aggro deck around them. In Extended you can pretty safely play three colors now, so I don’t think there is much reason to merely be a Boros Deck Wins any more. For example, you could add green to this existing R/W deck and add some very high quality cards such as Kird Ape and Wild Mongrel, without it really costing you anything at all. If you want more disruption you could add Black for Cabal Therapy and Dark Confidant. If you just work out which cards you want and play those colors, you can build a lot of different aggro decks that all function relativity similar, but you can improve on this base and pick cards for the metagame you are predicting. For example, Meddling Mage is very good if you expect lots of people to suspend Lotus Bloom or just play combo in general. There are also some very powerful gold cards that might fit into this style of deck, ranging from Lightning Angel to Destructive Flow.
If you really want to, you could simply play all the colors and have the very best cards… but while three colors doesn’t cost you that much life, playing more can put you at a disadvantage in any sort of aggro mirror.
There are, of course, plenty of already existing aggro decks – such as Affinity and Madness – that you can embellish with your own personal touches. Madness in particular has gained an interesting option from the dual lands in Anger. Before you couldn’t really afford to have random Mountains to your deck, but now they only cost you a few life and you can get some blisteringly fast starts with Wild Mongrel pitching Anger. This sort of deck could go either into a slower deck with Gifts Ungiven, and maybe even Psychatog. Or you could focus it towards R/G beatdown ,maybe becoming some sort of aggro Life From The Loam hybrid. These decks, however, are hurt somewhat by graveyard hate, so you might just better off adding Anger to a normal Madness deck where you can live without drawing Anger.
Theses sorts of decks are a little more complicated to work out starting lists for. First you need to find some combination of cards that wins you the game. This can range from the straightforward, like casting Dragonstorm with Ritual effects, to more the complicated, such as playing a number of spells that draw cards or make mana then casting a large Brain Freeze (such as is the plan for a Heartbeat of Spring deck). There are two different plans for a combo deck – you can try and go off as quickly as possible, and maybe have a little disruption in a few cards like Duress or Echoing Truth to remove cards that give you problems… or you can basically be a control deck with a combo rather than creatures as the win condition. I would tend to favor the faster game plan, as playing control in a relatively unknown format is hard enough. This means your deck has to goldfish pretty fast, so that is the first thing to test. You want to be going off on turn 4 a reasonable amount, as people will have disruption that slows you down in real games.
So once you have the an idea that works – for example, the Locket of Yesterdays Sensei’s Divining Top deck from Nick Eisel – you can tune your list and see how viable it is. Your game 1 win percentages need to be pretty good, as most of the time you can’t afford to sideboard too many cards, so games 2 and 3 will be worse for you. You can alleviate this somewhat by avoiding combos that require the graveyard or include artifacts. While people can still bring in cards like Cabal Therapy, they often won’t be sure exactly what cards you need, making the element of surprise particularly useful here. You need, as always with deck building, to avoid becoming too attached to a deck; while those cute combos might be fun when they work well, your only game plan is to combo off so it needs to be consistent. You also need to be aware of what the existing combo decks do, and how they win. If you plan on casting loads of spells and then a big Brain Freeze, you at least need an idea on why your new deck might be better a normal Heartbeat of Spring deck.
As a starting point for a new deck I would suggest that something containing Lotus Bloom and Mind’s Desire might be quite good. Playing a bunch of Ritual effects then a Mind’s Desire is pretty powerful if you can hit something like Tendrils of Agony or just something like a Lotus Bloom and a Burning Wish.
In a vacuum these are the hardest types of decks to build; we have some information about the format, but there are a lot of potential decks out there. This means that there are lots of different types of threats, and you need answers that deal with them. The most basic way of doing this is counterspells, as you can stop a Wild Mongrel just as easily as a Lotus Bloom.
One of the ultimate forms of control is Isochron Scepter. Few aggro decks can win through Sceptered Lightning Helix, and of course Orim’s Chant is a full lock. The main problem with this that after game 1 is becomes very difficult to stop people using Ancient Grudge to kill your Isochron Scepters, and impossible to stop Krosan Grip. One solution to this is just to take your Scepters out during sideboarding and transform into a different deck.
Another powerful controlling option is Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance. Top is useful on its own, and your deck will have plenty of free shuffles from Flooded Strands and the like. When combined, this can be very hard for people to fight through – lots of free counterspells. However, the main problem with control, as I said before, is not knowing what to expect; you can’t really transform effectively unless you have a sideboard that lets you do it against the popular decks. In real events these decks also suffer from drawing a lot, as they can struggle to win and you certainly want to have something like Brain Freeze to Cunning Wish for so you can finish people off.
These aren’t really meant to be played as they are… but you should test against these fairly standard decks, and make sure you have reasonable game against the majority.
Affinity is still very powerful, and although it is can get hated out it wins an awful lot of game ones by sheer power before you can bring all your hate in.
This is a good example of a control deck: hold them off until you can do broken things using your Urzatron. You can get a lot of Time Walks off Remand and Memory Lapse, giving you time to set up.
An example of combo would be something like Nick Eisel Locket Top deck, which can be seen here, but there are certainly other out there waiting to be built.
Hopefully I given people a starting point for building Extended decks. After Worlds there will be loads of decks floating around, but hopefully the format will be open enough that lots of different powerful strategies are all viable. I will talk more about the decks have played at Worlds at a later date, and I definitely used some of the techniques in this article to build them.