It goes without saying that the most recent changes in the Extended environment—the banning of Mana Vault and Dark Ritual—will shake up the environment considerably. How’s that for the understatement of the year?
Despite the public hue and cry over these latest DCI decisions—including the rather less-than-literate list of complainers over on the Dojo way back when—these decisions were the correct ones.
But I’m not going to discuss the causes, only the effects. Some deck archetypes are badly crippled if not killed outright. Others will now ascend to Tier 1 status with their primary opposition removed from the playing field. It’s the nature of the beast; cards come in, cards go out, decks constantly evolve.
Being the prognosticator I am, I thought I’d gaze into my crystal ball and see what the future holds for my favorite format.
Necropotence: Everyone and their grandmother seems to be intent on declaring the card-drawing skull dead and buried, but I’m not so certain about that hypothesis. Necro is too powerful not to see use in Extended in the immediate future.
Of course, the real power of Necro came not just from the ability to trade life for cards, but the speed at which it could hit the table with the mana from a Dark Ritual. A player could drop Necro and refill their hand and be in a position of power before their opponent even got a turn. That’s the perfect scenario for Necro.
It’s a lot easier, however, to beat Necro decks when they don’t have that first turn Dark Ritual and they must wait until turn three to play it. By turn three, an opponent should have a better opportunity to mount a defense against the Necro deck.
So no Dark Ritual, no Necro? I’m not convinced. Black still has access to other sources of fast mana, just not quite as fast. Mox Diamond is a definite possibility, however, as Eric Taylor pointed out in a recent article, that requires additional land and another card that Necro must hoard in order to play it, and it becomes a sub-optimal draw in the later stages of the game. The Diamond is also vulnerable to anti-artifact spells and Powder Kegs.
The bonuses of using Mox Diamond, however, include giving the Necro deck access to all five colors of mana—5cNecro? A definite possibility that we may see in the near future.
Another possible card is Tempest’s Blood Pet, or, as I like to call it,“Mini-Me.” It’s a 1/1 creature for one black mana that can be sacrificed for one black mana. Think of it as a mini-Ritual.
Imagine these in the slot normally held by Dark Ritual. For the Necro player, turn one, play a Swamp and Blood Pet, turn two, Swamp, sac Blood Pet, play Necropotence. Not as fast as a first turn drop, but not as slow as third turn.
Is that fast enough, though? Can Blood Pet effectively replace the Ritual? In an environment that is going to be somewhat slower, the loss of an early turn may not be as critical, although against Sligh, long the traditional nemesis of Necro, that extra turn can be critical.
One drawback is that the Blood Pet would rapidly fall into the same category of other one drops like Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves as“bolt-bait.”
Hatred: Another archetype totally destroyed by the loss of Dark Ritual, right? I say no. Turn two kills are no longer possible with this deck, but a turn three kill can still be pulled off.“Mini-Me” and Mox Diamonds can accelerate the speed at which the deck goes off. However, the best card to replace Dark Ritual in this deck would be Stronghold’s Culling the Weak. It gives you four black mana, not three, for a cost of only one black (well, that and sacrificing a creature).
Here’s a prototypical Hatred deck from before the recent bannings:
4 Dark Ritual
4 Dauthi Slayer
4 Dauthi Horror
4 Phyrexian Negator
4 Demonic Consultation
1 Kaervek’s Spite
4 City of Traitors
Take the above deck and replace the Dark Rituals with Culling the Weak. The deck loses the ability to have the explosive first turn of Dark Ritual–Duress–Sarcomancy x2 or to play a first turn Negator. The turn two kill is now impossible.
With the new version, a typical kill scenario would be to play a first turn Sarcomancy, turn two Carnophage or Horror, then attack with both creatures on turn three and play Culling the Weak, sacrificing whichever creature was blocked, cast Hatred on the unblocked attacker and boom! That’s all she wrote. And that’s still pretty darn fast.
Using Culling the Weak would also eliminate the need for using City of Traitors for that necessary boost in mana and free the deck from the downside of that card.
Mana Vault: Who remembers when you could pick these cards up for about a quarter? I used to run them in“fun decks” so I could play out angels and vampires before turn five or six. But tournament playable? Pshaw!
But to a combo deck that needs the fast boost in mana and could care less about the drawback, it’s a perfectly broken little card. It saw little play in creature-based decks, unless you want to consider the Tinker/Iron Giant variants, which fall into the Hatred-class of pseudo-combo decks.
Again, like Dark Ritual, a slower replacement exists in the form of Grim Monolith. It’s more expensive but lacks the drawback of dealing damage to its controller.
For combo decks that need to go off quickly, like Trix, I think the loss of both Dark Ritual and Mana Vault will the final nails in the coffin to eliminate the archetype. Powerful but fragile to begin with, slowing them down by two or three turns will probably make them unplayable. However, Academy Rector-based decks, like Cocoa Pebbles or Wheaties or whatever cereal it’s being named after these days, could probably still function capably with the Monolith replacing the Vault.
Tinker decks would still function quite nicely with the Monolith—unfortunately, everyone packs their Null Rods in the sideboard now, and Tinker’s time in the sun has probably passed.
Future Bannings: I know it isn’t just me, but I think Extended should always have the dual lands as an integral part of the format. I don’t care if it’s eight years from now and“they’re finally rotating out Masques block,” dual lands should always be available.
I also know, sadly, that this is a pipe dream, and as the years go on, access to older out of print cards will get more and more difficult, so new players may not be able to get those four Taigas as easily as before. Criminy, I remember when they were considered trash rares and immediately went to the back of the trade binder, and you could pick them up for two or three bucks easy.
I also had a good looking head of hair back then. Times change.
I don’t know when the next series of bannings will be issued—it could be June 1st, it might not be until 2002 or beyond—but there are three definite possibilities as to what will be rotated out:
A) Dual lands are pulled from the environment
B) Ice Age block cards are pulled from the environment
C) Dual lands and Ice Age block cards are pulled from the environment
Let’s examine each of these possibilities:
A) Dual lands are banned from Extended
If dual lands and only dual lands go, any deck type that runs multiple colors is going to take a hit, and decks that run four or five colors become nearly unplayable. Counter-Sliver and Three-Deuce, two archetypes that consist of mostly or completely nothing but non-basics, would be dead on arrival.
Tithe and Land Grant, favored for their ability to pull out non-basic Plains and Forests, may still see play, but their usefulness will decline if they can’t pull out Plateaus and Bayous anymore. However, the Mirage“fetch” lands will probably increase in popularity and I could see decks running anywhere from three to six of these as“replacements” for dual lands—if these decks are running allied colors. Swamps and mountains we can do, Swamps and Plains are another matter.
So what about using Tempest block pseudo-dual lands, like Scabland? Well, a) they come into play tapped, b) they can’t be retrieved using the“fetch” lands, Land Grant or Tithe, c) they deal damage to you for colored mana and d) they pretty much suck all around.
City of Brass will always be popular, and Undiscovered Paradise and Gemstone Mine are pretty fair too. But the two best sources of getting multicolored mana relatively pain-free remain Mox Diamonds and Birds of Paradise. The Birds are notoriously fragile and the Diamond has its additional casting cost, but beyond these options, choices are extremely limited.
Decks that traditionally run these cards in Extended—Rec-Sur, 5cG and PT Jank—would become more viable, perhaps moving to the forefront of Tier 1.
B) Ice Age block cards are pulled from the environment
As I was researching this article, I went pawing through my sets to see exactly how much this loss of over 500 cards would affect the environment. And do you know, out of three sets and 500-plus cards, how many cards that could be critical components of many Extended decks, and whose loss would render entire archetypes null and void?
But they’re a very big four.
The popular Demonic Consultation would be gone. The Consult was an essential part of combo decks and several other archetypes in order to speed up the engine. Its instant speed made it perfect when looking for a card you had multiples of in the deck; its drawback made for some potentially short games. Vampiric Tutor would be a decent if imperfect replacement, although if you’re really desperate, you could try running Divining Witch.
I, personally, would not recommend this.
Combo decks, Hatred and certain Counter-Sliver decks would be hurt by this loss.
Swords to Plowshares would be given the heave-ho. Remember, Fourth Edition is out of Extended and Swords was not reprinted in Fifth. While there are numerous more expensive and less flexible replacements for the mighty Plow, there’s no one card that works as effectively and as cheaply. Without Ice Age block, any deck that depended upon Swords to Plowshares takes a big hit (Jank, Three-Deuce, Iron Phoenix).
Even with the errata, Thawing Glaciers remained a powerful card in the Extended environment and was a crucial component of many mono-blue decks, such as Draw-Go and Forbidian, as well as B/G Counter-Oath. The ability to Thaw lands out early to fuel counterspells and thin the deck was the engine that made these decks run so well.
But the biggest and most obvious loss would be Force of Will; the card that perhaps truly defines the environment. Any deck that ran more than a splash of blue always had four of these main deck. Once the Force is gone, there are no other true“free” counterspells available. Daze, perhaps, and Thwart could be considered“free,” but Misdirection is more situational and not a true counterspell. Regardless, there would no longer be a way for the blue mage to be tapped out early and be able to say,“No, you can’t do that.”
The four aforementioned cards are the greatest examples, but there are several other cards that see considerable play in Extended from the Ice Age block. Contagion, Anarchy, Dystopia, Lim-Dul’s Vault, Serrated Arrows, Guerilla Tactics, Icequake, Thermokarst, Stormbind, Arcane Denial, Kjeldoran Outpost and Shield Sphere—their loss would have a smaller but no less important impact upon Extended. Squee-bind and Fruity Pebbles decks would clearly become unplayable.
In this environment, again, a deck that did not depend upon Ice Age cards would not be hurt badly and in turn would become stronger. Rec-Sur and Sligh are the clear winners here. Existing combo decks, in the sense that we have come to know them, are deader than Lincoln, but Replenish could make a big splash.
C) Both dual lands and Ice Age block cards are rotated out of the environment
We combine the two scenarios above and we get a really radical change in Extended. Of the existing archetypes, only Rec-Sur, Sligh and Stompy would seem to survive relatively unscathed. Almost every other deck archetype loses something major in one form or another.
I should point out, all of this is pure conjecture, a philosophical exercise in what might or might not happen. I might be right on the money or none of this might come to pass. WotC might prove me wrong and leave dual lands in until the cows come home. Combo decks may rise yet again and rule another round of PTQs.
Evolution has always been the name of the game. Old archetypes are discarded as new expansions bring new defenses. New archetypes arise from the ashes of discarded decks. What was old becomes new, and old again. Change is the name of the game.
Nothing lasts forever. Just ask the dinosaurs.