The Icy Grip – Extended: Watch Out, Valakut, Control Is Back!

Wednesday, March 16 – Esper Control is back to attack Extended! Shaheen takes the power of Esper Charm, discard, planeswalkers, and control elements and combines it in a deck built to beat pesky Scapeshifters.

Extended PTQs are creeping back up after the fun wave of Standard Opens. It’s time to change gears and focus on winning that golden plane ticket to
Nagoya and battling in the upcoming Extended Grand Prix. Sadly with my work schedule, I won’t be able to attend the Pro Tour, but I hope to at least
finagle my way to Dallas to test out the power of true control in Extended.

At this point, the format is ripe for control domination because of the popularity of aggro and easily disrupted combo decks. When crafting a
metagame-based Extended deck this time around, we have to utilize the most powerful color combination. In this case, it will be Esper, and there are a
few reasons why I chose this particular shard:

1. Black

The color of hand disruption and the most powerful creature win condition. In Amsterdam, I played a Grixis Control Deck (with Kitchen Finks) and used
three Grave Titans. That guy was insane then and is still pretty good now. He wins in a couple turns, needs no other card assistance, and is resilient
to removal. The ability to use planeswalkers, mass removal, and countermagic and then to end with that guy usually wraps the game up nicely, and I
believe Grave Titan is much more powerful in Extended than in Standard.

The reason you’ll only see one in the list currently is because of my particular metagame. I live in Valakut country, and that’s the matchup where he’s
least impressive. If you’re in an area full of green-based aggro and U/W Control, then I suggest upping the number in the list towards the bottom of
the article.

The other maindeck powerhouse card is Go for the Throat. This spell is super versatile and a live card against every top-tier deck besides Valakut
(even then, it’s decent against the R/G version). It’s the best answer to Fauna Shaman, Mythic surprises, and troublesome Titans. The multicolor spells
and sideboard include other black spells.

1.     Esper Charm (A good one against Bitterblossom and Prismatic Omen and never dead due to the other abilities)

2.     Memoricide (Scapeshift! Get it out of here!)

3.     Black Sun’s Zenith (This is the three-mana wrath for Hierarchs and has a similar effect to Day of Judgment at four. I like it over Day and
partnered with Hallowed Burial better, but that’s personal preference and is an easy swap)

4.     Thoughtseize (All-around answer to control mirrors playing Sword/Stoneforge mix and Valakut)

2. White

Mass removal and planeswalkers. The minute that Elspeth, Knight-Errant rotated out of Standard I had to have her back in the lineup. She not only
creates threats but protects herself better than anyone else. We all know the advantages of Elspeth 1.0 and miss her dearly, so here’s your chance to
battle again with the second most powerful planeswalker printed!

Gideon Jura is another amazing option for Extended control decks. That guy is so good, and when everyone gave up on the guy and dropped him from
control lists, I never dropped below two in Standard. Gideon is good because he’s a fantastic win condition (especially post-Hallowed Burial), is good
at death prevention, and has a ton of loyalty.

Our mass removal spell of choice will be Hallowed Burial. This decision is based on the metagame and problematic cards that need to go to the bottom of
the libraries and not in the graveyard to bash you again. Problem cards like Vengevine, Demigod of Revenge, and Kitchen Finks are rampant in Extended,
and the extra mana is worth it. The Extended aggro decks are particularly fast; with our cheap disruption, we can afford to wait another turn.

Saving the best for last…Stoneforge Mystic! This guy can’t stay out of decklists and will dominate both Standard and Extended for a long, long time.
“It’s just an artifact!” “Blow it up, easily disrupt-able!” Obviously the guy who made these quotes isn’t very experienced against the dynamic duo of
sword and sword-getter! Of course, it’s easy to stop, but the mana investment and the ability to end the game on turn 4 from a control deck add a new
dynamic to this and other decks. My last article went in-depth on the strength of Stoneforge Mystic, and my feelings on the card have doubled since a
few weeks ago. Don’t sleeve up a 75 without this “dynamic duo!”

1.     Runed Halo (The MVP of the deck. Stops Mistbind Clique, prevents any early threats, late threats under control, and of course stops Valakut
right in its tracks…for two mana!)

2.     Mirran Crusader (This was originally going to be a random pro-red creature, but Jund, Naya, Bant, and random other green decks are going to have
a huge problem with this creature. He seems to have crept in all decklists that play white, so no surprises — just sheer power!)

3.     Divine Offering (I meddled with Oblivion Ring and random cards that hit both artifacts and enchantments…but the instant speed is so important
that alternatives are much weaker)

3. Blue

This color needs the least amount of explanation. I’ll save the readers from further lectures on the power of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. A few noteworthy
cards from blue are Mana Leak and Cryptic Command. The power of the white and black disruption combined with countermagic allows for a great game
against Valakut (especially after board). After testing, I was at a 70% match-win percentage (best 2/3 with board) against the Mountain-heavy
monster and did slightly better against the U/G version. Blue provides just enough safety to let planeswalkers and Grave Titans run rampant. Blue, with
my personal bias, is an auto-include in control decks in all formats at this point in the evolution of the game.

4. Artifact

SWORD OF FEAST AND FAMINE!! As I said in the last article,
“Control should not be able to play two spells a turn.”

With these spells identified, it’s time to construct a powerful spell book of epic proportions! Without further ado, here is the list!

Decks to Beat!

I’ve always valued the breakdown of a format, rather than speaking hypothetically. Even with the addition of Stoneforge Mystics and a few newer cards,
I think the format hasn’t changed too much. Let’s see what we’re dealing with here!

A lot of boys here and the usual troublesome equipment. This matchup turns out to be pretty good for our Esper deck because of the mass amount of board
sweepers and removal after board. Their eight bird effects have always given the advantage to the true control deck because our wrath serves as land
destruction as well.

Mirran Crusader is kind of tricky and can hit pretty hard, but I’ve been able to keep it out of the red zone with Jace, chumping with Stoneforge
Mystic, Elspeth, Mana Leak, bouncing / tapping with Cryptic, and then casting Hallowed Burial. Our only real advantage game 1 however is that most of
these Bant decks have just the 2-3 Mana Leaks to stop our mass removal, and it becomes a challenge setting it up perfectly. I tried and didn’t like
Oblivion Ring as an answer to Mirran Crusader or their other creatures because of Qasali Pridemage shenanigans…but if you seem to get whipped around by
him a lot, toss a Path or two somewhere in the build to help out.

Just your average Fae build that might change a little with the addition of Sword of Feast and Famine. That doesn’t change the poor matchup control has
against this Bitterblossom menace however! My best suggestion is to win the die roll and be able to Mana Leak or Esper Charm the Bitterblossom if they
have it. Runed Halo stops Clique game 1 (board it out game 2 of course), and you might be able to get there with Creeping Tar Pit and a lucky
Stoneforge. Game two, you’re assisted by Mirran Crusader and Thoughtseize to help resolve spells, but this matchup is just a tough one.

This deck might be a horrible decision because of the amount of Mirran Crusaders being played, but I guarantee you still will see a decent amount of
people stubborn it up at the PTQ! The deck still has strength against combo decks and aggro mirrors, but for us, this is an easy matchup. Games play
out as you’d suspect…they play guys early on that we easily deal with, and late game, the sword finds its way onto Creeping Tar Pits, random tokens, or
a Gideon with enough protection to take it all the way. Runed Halo is really good in this matchup as well…don’t sweat the Junders!

Valakut (R/G) / Valakut (U/G)

Both these matchups have a similar strategy to them, so I’ll combine the two. The only different dynamic really is that the counterspell version has
Cryptic Command and Mana Leak whereas the R/G version has creatures that have to be answered. Both matchups you bring in Memoricide, Thoughtseize, and
the other Runed Halo in order to remove their combo before it even gets started. Esper Charm is insane against both versions as well…to blow up a
Prismatic Omen or a Khalni Heart Expedition. The Charm is also great to force discard because both decks get pretty low on card count after disruption
from their opponent. The main reason I chose Esper is to be able to defeat Valakut players regularly. If Valakut just flat-out doesn’t exist in your
local metagame, then U/W Control would be a tad bit better for consistency.

Other lower tier decks may include:

Mythic Conscription (People still like attacking for 1000 on turn 4)

U/W Control (With Stoneforge)

Naya (34 Creature Version)

Doran (Still have nightmares about playing this deck)

New Doran (Midrange Version, Planeswalkers, Sun Titan, etc.)

Bad Red Deck (You know the type…)

A Few Friendly Warnings

1.      I warn my friends and readers that the Magic Online metagame is rarely reflective of the real-world one. I’d cite a ton of examples, but decks
that contain Jace, the Mind Sculptor are few and far between based on the cost online for these spicy planeswalkers. Aggro tends to dominate on MODO
also, where in live Magic, you see a healthy spread of decks with control/combo taking many of the PTQs and other tournaments. This is no different
from other time periods. The decks from Grand Prix Atlanta will be there in full force even with the addition of Mirrodin Besieged, and as a middle set
always does, it will add cards to many existing decks to improve them greatly. This is the reason instead of having four Kitchen Finks in my decklist,
I have four Stoneforge Mystics. This is the reason why Kitchen Finks isn’t even in the sideboard, because it can’t even block a Mirran Crusader or an
equipped creature! I too have fallen for a MODO world metagame and see the entire room playing decks from the last Pro Tour or Grand Prix. Not this
time, friends!

2.     Playtest, Playtest, Playtest, PLAYTEST!!! Unless you’re super professional, a deck like this or a control deck in general needs practice. There
are always going to be a ton of decisions in a deck full of instants, and you need to be exposed to multiple scenarios. I know a lot of us don’t have a
lot of time to playtest (myself included), but make a friend proxy up a deck and get to it. Even with one deck proxied, you can get a feel for your
spells and understand interactions better. I guarantee great success with just a small amount of battle practice!

3.     Don’t go showing off your deck to everyone in the room! This is definitely in the “rogue” category with a lot of surprises. I mean…maindeck
Runed Halo? Tons of planeswalkers and a sneaky Grave Titan? Having the jump on your opponent is invaluable, so don’t waste that mojo!

I hope my article gives you tools on how to identify the power level of specific cards and then build decks around them. A good deckbuilder will never
succeed on the first try, and this list is no different. The list I’ve posted has been changed at least ten times recently. Never hesitate to goldfish
a bunch to perfect a mana base and to determine how you can best smooth out your draws. I also hope that if you take the full 75 and run into combat
with it in the near future that you do well. If you have any questions about the list, article, or anything Magic related in general, add me on Twitter
@ shaheenmtg, email me at [email protected], or simply post in the forums, and I’ll try to get back to
you as soon as I can. Happy hunting and good luck on that Pro Tour invite!

 A few quotes to send you on your way!

“You really are turning over a new leaf, huh? :-P” — Brian Kibler in response to my use of Hawks and Preordains

“So uh, about those Preordains…” — Ted Knutson in response to my use of Hawks and Preordains

“I can’t even look at you let alone watch this match…you’re dead to me, Shaheen” — Anonymous Card Shop Contender in response to my use of Hawks and