I’d like to apologize upfront, dear readers: having your articles go up in the middle of the week can be a blessing and a curse, and this is one of the weeks where it is indeed a curse. You see, picking a topic to write about is often a difficult task, but sometimes you really don’t have a choice. When Wizards announces one of the most sweeping changes to the competitive scene in years, it is next to impossible for a columnist not to make mention of it, since it is exactly the kind of topic that needs discussion. So why apologize? I must admit that I wouldn’t be shocked to hear that by the time this article is printed that you’re already five or six articles deep on the subject, and mine is yet another one. On the other hand, most Magic players read articles for opinions, and if you’re here seeking my opinion on the “New Extended” then you’re certainly going to get it.
First things first: this is a good change. Extended up until this point has been a crap format. I’ve read the comments on some of the other articles this week, and some people have mentioned how Extended PTQs have the biggest turnouts and that Extended is a “rich format.” No. Just, like, no. Extended has large turnouts because people can play Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and avoid playing with stupid cards like Bloodbraid Elf without having to buy Underground Seas. Don’t believe for a second that the general public actually likes Extended, because they don’t. Sometimes it’s tolerable (the Extended with Riptide Laboratory and Spellstutter Sprite was very fun for me, but for those not playing with Faeries I can imagine that it was awful), but for every time it is fun there will be two or three times where it is like it was this past season. I mean, can anyone honestly say that Extended was fun this year? You liked having every match-up be some degenerate combo deck? You like Thopter Foundry? Dark Depths is fun for you? Scapeshift? Hypergenesis? No, that isn’t fun. Know what’s fun? Attacking with creatures. Playing Cryptic Command. And, I don’t know… not playing with Demonic Dread.
I mean, for every person that is upset about this change I can imagine that there are troves of others who are very excited. This format will be fun, I don’t have much doubt about that. I mean, having two sets of Standard formats put together is such an exciting idea, isn’t it? I haven’t had as much fun with Standard as I did last summer, and so for me it is hard to not get all giddy thinking about playing with Vivid Creek again or Anathemancer (and just when I thought the FNM promo was worthless!). I mean, can you imagine playing Cruel Ultimatum with fetches and Jace, the Mind Sculptor? How many times have you looked at a card in a new set and just said to yourself “where was THAT card a year ago?” Now that won’t even be an issue anymore. And when your cards leave Standard now, they don’t have to be insanely broken to be good enough to see play in Extended — no, now they can be just about any “good” card. This extends the longevity of all cards seeing print, and this is a good thing.
Of course, this begs the question: what about Overextended? And, once again, I apologize for covering this topic again for you all, but let’s be honest here: that format is real. I mean, it isn’t good enough to say that shocklands are playing the “budget Duals” role. No way, I don’t buy it. Ravnica is probably still the most popular block in Magic’s history, and it seems to me that Wizards would be stupid not to take advantage of that block by making a new Eternal format to showcase it. They’ve essentially neutered Extended, and now they need to create something that lets everyone use those “old cards” that doesn’t require them to buy into the Legacy staples. Masques block and up would create a rich format filled with even more possibilities than Extended ever did, and all that would be required to keep things in check is to ban the cards like Swords of the Meek so that combo isn’t just warping the format (remember, Brainstorm would be legal as well). I don’t like the idea of banning a bunch of cards, but it seems very difficult to extend the card pool that far back into Magic’s history without removing cards like Entomb and Aether Vial. You have to make concessions somewhere, right?
Still, whether Overextended is real or not doesn’t matter too much right now. All we know is that Wizards wants Extended to be popular again, and this is definitely the way to do it. What if this new “Double Standard” was an FNM format? I’ll tell you that I’d personally be thrilled to play with Cryptic Commands at FNM again instead of Cancel, so I can’t help but be all for this format. I hope Wizards takes chances with this and makes the best of the opportunity, and I look forward to any updates they’re willing to throw our way.
Now, I know what you’re no doubt thinking. “Chris, you’re just happy about this because of the deck you get to play again.” And, as much as I’d love to deny it, I mustn’t lie to you guys: I’ll be the first to admit that the second I heard about this I immediately thought to myself “lol Bitterblossom” (and yes, I use terms like “lol” when I think in my head). For anyone who has ever cast a Bitterblossom on 2 on the play, it is hard to get it out of your head. Winning is fun, and Faeries to this day has one of the highest win percentages in the history of the game of any deck that wasn’t neutered by a banning. After printing both Great Sable Stag AND Volcanic Fallout there were still FIVE Faerie decks in the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Tacoma last summer. Did I mention that Bloodbraid Elf was in that deck? And that the “Jund” deck was BETTER then?
What am I getting at? Many people have said that Faeries just won’t be the best deck in the new format, but I am a bit more skeptical. And no, it isn’t my bias I promise! Let’s actually be reasonable for a second. What would possibly be able to stop it? More specifically, after the Pro Tour, when Time Spiral is gone, what is stopping it? The loss of Damnation? That obviously didn’t stop it before, so why would it now? I mean, as far as Amsterdam goes, we’ll surely see Faeries in the Top 8 (quote me on that), but the Extended format that everyone else gets to play in the fall will naturally have Fae at the top of the food chain. I suppose Scars of Mirrodin could just rock our worlds (reprinting Engineered Plague is about the only thing I can think of, personally), but I think it would take Affinity all over again to best a play like “turn 2 Bitterblossom.”
I will admit, however, that Vengevine might make a tad bit of difference. I mean, a RG aggressive deck with Vengevine, Bloodbraid Elf, Great Sable Stag, and Volcanic Fallout would probably be a pretty harsh match-up for Faeries, but anything beyond that doesn’t seem so bad. We’re probably kidding ourselves to say that a Faerie deck with Jace, the Mind Sculptor wouldn’t just be better than anything else printed in the last few years. I won’t be so bold to just say that Fae will be the best deck, because we have no way to know for sure, but I’ll go on record saying that it’ll be one of the Tier 1 decks in the new format.
I don’t have any decklists yet, but with a Pro Tour between now and the “format proper,” I don’t see a reason to bury you all in more speculation. In the end, the bottom line from me is this: Double Standard sounds like a lot of fun. Slower strategies like Five Color Control will become viable, and all the cards that you were bummed about leaving Standard will be around for just a tad longer. One of the best parts? Kitchen Finks is back for more! I’m very excited! And so is Reveillark. And Chameleon Colossus. And Thoughtseize. See where this is going…?
Still, no matter how much I want to talk about Extended, the Pro Tour is a way off and there isn’t a lot to say until we’ve got some real testing done with the new format. In the meantime, we mustn’t forget that the Banned and Restricted changes also affected Legacy, and in a big way. Illusionary Mask isn’t really a big deal, and Grim Monolith is an odd case, but clearly the banning of Mystical Tutor is quite huge. What does it mean, though, exactly?
Legacy will change — a lot. The metagame as we know it will dissolve, and combo’s chokehold on the format will vanish. Zoo gets better, and Goblins probably becomes the best aggressive deck. Control, however, can cut some of its combo hate and start packing more answers to creature strategies. That being said, control will be on the rise. Counterbalance might just return to being the premier card in the format as it was last year.
More importantly, though, is what happens to decks like Stax, Lands, and Enchantress. All three of these decks have brilliantly positive match-ups with creature decks and control decks alike, but simply could never dream of interacting with a combo deck. Well, that all changes now. If Belcher and Dredge see more play because of the fall of ANT and Reanimator, then that’s bad, but otherwise one of these three decks will probably be among the best choices for the Grand Prix next month. Lands is the weakest of the three in terms of vulnerability, but the strongest in the abstract. Graveyard hate is not going anywhere, as Leyline of the Void is good against Thopter combo (one of the Counterbalance decks that benefit from the loss of Mystical Tutor), and Lands suffers because of this. Game 1 against a control deck with Lands is an absolute joke, and literally just a bye. Game 2 though is another story, as with the proper sideboard cards it can be very easy for them to just shut off Life from the Loam, leaving you to play with manlands while they get to cast all of their spells. Stax, however, can still punish Goblin and Zoo (Ghostly Prison, Baneslayer Angel, Magus of the Tabernacle) and perform well against control (Armageddon, Trinisphere, etc) all without being vulnerable to popular Legacy hatecards. Enchantress, in much the same vein, is difficult to hate out but very hard to beat if you’re not playing awkward cards like Tempest of Light.
In fact, Enchantress is probably now my deck for the Grand Prix. I never feel like I can lose to a control deck when piloting the deck, and you can typically survive for a while against aggro decks long enough to set up a Confinement lock. I mean, as long as you have ONE draw trigger in play you can set up Solitary Confinement as early as turn 2 against creature decks and just slowroll the triggers for a few turns before playing more Enchantress effects. And between City of Solitude and the inevitability of Replenish and Sigil of the Empty Throne it’s not as though control decks are an issue. Karmic Justice in the sideboard/maindeck means you can deal with Zoo’s Qasali Pridemages very efficiently, and as my friend Caleb pointed out to me you can now use a maindeck Ground Seal to replace Wheel of Sun and Moon since Exhume is nearly useless and anything else that requires graveyard hate is shut off by it (Dread Return, Life from the Loam, etc). I mean, I suppose Wheel is still better against Thopter Foundry, but you can’t actually lose to that deck with Enchantress to be completely honest. Even if all goes well and they get the combo going you can just lay Elephant Grass and kill them with Words of War. Even if that deck gets Jace online you can Words of War him or Oblivion Ring him (possibly with the aid of Replenish).
Long story short, I would expect Legacy’s metagame to open up again. Slower combo-ish decks like Stax and Enchantress will go up in value, control decks can be more traditional again, and aggro strategies actually stand a chance. Combo isn’t gone, but it is not longer a well-represented pillar in the metagame. I’m sure Cedric is very happy that Belcher is now one of the only true combo decks, and I look forward to seeing his opinion on the deck as soon as possible.
All in all, the changes are all more or less good ones. Legacy seems way more fun to me now, and Extended is actually a format that I can look forward to. I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for the announcement of Overextended, but until then I have Bitterblossoms to cast once again.
Until next time…
Shinjutsei on MTGO