Thirst for Knowledge – Amsterdam, and What It Means

Wednesday, September 8th – Amsterdam is over… But how is the new Extended going to look once the qualifying season starts? Chris hands you some solid advice for the PTQs.

A few weeks back, I wrote an article about the Extended format, and in the comment thread I stated that I found very little value in predicting Top 8s for tournaments like Pro Tours. Why? Because there is little reason to believe that the metagame will ever be all that similar to the one we see on Magic Online or anywhere else. In the case of this past weekend’s Pro Tour, I was only half-right. For reference, here was the Top 8 I “predicted”:

1 Faeries (piloted by PV)
3 R/G Scapeshift
2 Mono Red
1 Reveillark
1 U/G/r Junk

And here was the actual Top 8:

2 White Weenie
1 U/W Merfolk
2 Teachings
2 Treehouse
1 Jund

In short, I was a little off. Although, admittedly, it’s not as though we had much data concerning the Teachings decks, and the Faeries in Top 8 was more of a personal hope than anything. Both Doran and White Weenie were decks I undervalued, and I’ll be the first to admit that those two decks are much more powerful than I had originally gave them credit for.

So what did we learn, aside from that?

Well, first and foremost, we learned that R/G Scapeshift probably isn’t the monster we all thought it was. If you look at the Top Decks for the Extended portion, you can see that there were a number of players in attendance who decided to battle with it, but ultimately it couldn’t break through to a higher finish. I’d say that this has a lot to do with Treehouse’s popularity – that deck simply has so many discard effects that I wouldn’t be surprised if that matchup is somewhat of a joke for Doran’s deck. The White Weenie deck is also quite a bit faster than Scapeshift as a combo, so again it just stands to reason that those two decks being so heavily-played would make a bad case for Scapeshift.

Is Scapeshift going to be a poor choice for Magic Online, or even the Extended season? I highly doubt that. It may be less than stellar over the coming months due to the buzz of the Pro Tour and the number of potentially bad matchups you’ll be expecting to face – but after rotation, I’m sure the fact that it will be one of the few combo decks in the format will become pretty relevant.

Of course, that reminds me: combo, as a whole, was nowhere to be seen in Amsterdam’s Top 8. That’s interesting, really, since if we look back, combo has generally won most of the major Extended events in the past few years: Elves in Berlin, TEPS in Los Angeles, and Thepths only just recently. But this new Extended, however, seems to actually be a dynamic format based upon actual attrition wars and creatures – which, incidentally, is exactly what Wizards wants. As I said, this fact alone may be a point in Scapeshift’s favor come this winter, but for right now it just means that there simply aren’t enough reasons to stop playing Tarmogoyfs and Dorans. I’d expect to see more of decks like Pyromancer Ascension and Open the Vaults a few months from now as we desire less and less interactivity (in the case of Ascension) or have more powerful tools at our disposal (Open the Vaults post-Scar). Ad Nauseam will obviously be a dead deck come October (goodbye, Conflagrate!), but Elves will potentially be a threat during the qualifying season.

In Brian Kibler deck tech for Doran, he mentioned that in a field filled with either combo decks or control decks, he wanted to be the beatdown. He wanted to disrupt and apply lots of pressure quickly, forcing his opponents to deal with his threats before they could proceed with their own plan. Here is his list:

Behold! The current “most powerful deck” in Extended. Yes, White Weenie won the event – but the bottom line is that Doran is probably the true breakout deck. Not only is the deck completely immune to Punishing Fire, but it also is packing seven maindeck discard spells to throw at combo and creature decks alike. And that’s all not even mentioning the removal suite the deck employs – including Maelstrom Pulse, which also blows up Pyromancer Ascension in addition to Spectral Procession tokens and Jaces.

Capable of dealing twenty damage in four turns, the “new Zoo” deck can apply large amounts of pressure with ease. Plus, Murmuring Bosk coupled with green fetchlands give the deck the best mana in the format. At this stage, what more could you ask for from your deck? You can even play Infest in your sideboard, which does not kill any of your creatures, or you could use Zealous Persecution (as Kibler did) and blow out creature mirrors. In fact, Zealous Persecution was the first card to come to my mind as a means to control your advantage in White Weenie mirror matches. I’d expect those decks to start playing Fetid Heaths and Caves of Koilos to accommodate for Persecution, just as B/W Tokens did in Standard a year ago. After all, nothing says “I win” in White Weenie mirrors quite like Persecution, and I’m honestly surprised not to have seen some variants of the deck pacing that even as early as this Pro Tour.

So one big question remains: where was Faeries? Well, as I stated in my previous article, I think expecting Faeries to perform well was more or less wishful thinking. The concentrated hate for Faeries was simply too much to make it a worthwhile decision – and even if you managed to overcome Punishing Fire you still had to tangle with Great Sable Stag, Doran, and Kitchen Finks. Heck, Teachings also had Teferi and Volcanic Fallout, so the idea of Faeries was probably doomed from the start. A few lists did well regardless, however, as they appear in the Top Decks section of the coverage (twelve of them made Day Two, even). Will the deck be better during the qualifying season? Naturally – no more Punishing Fires, no more obsolete Bitterblossoms. Will it ever be a better strategy than 5/5 trees or Steppe Lynx? I’m not holding my breath.

My favorite deck of the Pro Tour, though, is this one:

I love a good Dredge deck, and Ben’s list is surprisingly efficient. At this point in the game, there aren’t a whole lot of dredge cards left, and after this Pro Tour we won’t really have any of the key cards anymore… But I don’t doubt for a second that Extractor Demon-fueled dredging will ensue well after the death of this incarnation of the archetype.

This list seems especially good for Magic Online right now, since Leyline is pretty easy to beat and Doran’s discard is very ineffective against it. The only worry I’d have piloting this deck is, well, Leyline of the Void from the Doran deck, since their discard won’t be hitting your Ionas or your Dread Returns – it’ll be hitting your Into the Roils. I still don’t think that that’s too much of a deterrent, but it’s something to watch out for.

I believe the key to Extended right now is trying to focus on a strong early game. For instance, rather than attempting to have lots of late-game staying power, it’s simply better to have stronger beats and/or better removal for the first three turns. In the Doran deck, for example, play fewer cards like Chameleon Colossus and more like Doran or Loam Lion, which are very efficient for their mana costs and force opponents to make quick decisions early and often. This holds true for the aggressive White decks as well – you’ll notice that there aren’t any copies of Cloudgoat Ranger in those decks. The reason? Five mana is a lot, and if we aren’t slowing ourselves down with tapped lands (rest in peace, Windbrisk Heights), then it’s pretty hard to justify something that costs more than three or four. I’d say the exception might be the new Elspeth – but more on that in a future article…

The new Extended is interesting, to say the least. Last year was all about combo, and while combo still exists as a big force in this format, we see more aggressive decks and control decks taking center stage than we’re used to in recent years. Modern Magic design has tended to inch away from combo and more towards creatures and control elements, and by cutting the Extended format in half we can see the aftermath of that: a more interactive format. However, a lot will still change in the fall, as the following cards (just to name a few) will be long gone:

Ancestral Vision
Bridge from Below
Grove of the Burnwillows
Living End
Lord of Atlantis
Mystical Teachings
Rift Bolt
Summoner’s Pact
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

This list obsoletes Dredge, Teachings, Living End, and Ad Nauseam. It weakens Mono-Red, Cruel Control, Elves, Faeries, Merfolk, and pretty much any deck playing Punishing Fire. Yet this doesn’t make for a poor format, but rather for an even broader one. Decks like White Weenie and Doran remain basically untouched from the rotation, and will almost undoubtedly get even better with Scars, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the two “top decks” in that regard.

Moving forward, I think we’ll need to try and build our Extended decks to beat creature mirrors above all else. You’ll need a certain amount of interactivity with combo decks – but cards like Maelstrom Pulse, which pull double-duty as creature removal and combo disruption, will be very key, and discard will undoubtedly continue to impress in this fledgling format. Here’s to hoping that control will be even better represented next time, and that Cruel Ultimatum or Mistbind Clique can be an even more integral part of Extended when the qualifying season starts. I’m looking forward to a more balanced and dynamic Extended! We’ve been denied that for so long.

Until next time,
Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO