Thirst for Knowledge – Finding the Right Deck

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Wednesday, January 13th – While all along I had expected to have an additional week to playtest Extended before I played in my first PTQ of the season, it has come to my attention that I will be attending the PTQ in Chicago in just a few days. That being said, I need a deck – and fast.

While all along I had expected to have an additional week to playtest Extended before I played in my first PTQ of the season, it has come to my attention that I will be attending the PTQ in Chicago in just a few days. That being said, I need a deck — and fast.

This year’s Extended is a lot different than that of last year, and for the most part I’d have to say that last year’s format was simply a ton more fun to play. I’m not particularly thrilled with any deck that I’ve tested with, and at this point I truly am at a loss when it comes to what to play. Initially going into this season I had expected to just hop on the Dredge bandwagon, but a deck’s raw power alone isn’t always enough. Dredge clearly is the most powerful deck in Extended, but no amount of power or consistency is going to stop six or more dedicated post-sideboard slots from virtually any deck imaginable. In the words of PV, “if one wants to beat Dredge, he will.” Until people have lightened up on their Dredge hate, I’m personally not willing to take that kind of gamble.

Now, that isn’t to say that I would dissuade one from playing the graveyard deck — quite the opposite, really. I myself have never felt comfortable just playing the odds and spinning the wheel (hence why I refuse to play decks like All-In Red, or my disgust of decks like Jund), and as such I don’t feel that I could legitimately play Dredge knowing that in any given match I could be up against varying numbers of Relics, Leylines, Crypts, and Traps that not only could, but would ruin my day. Dredge is still pound-for-pound the most streamlined and persistent deck, and easily the best deck in a vacuum (in my humble opinion, at least), and regardless of the amount of hate should be considering above likely all other decks when making a decision such as this.

Anyone who knows me knows I greatly enjoy playing Islands, but it takes little thought to conclude that when I put it that way that I’m not talking about Scapeshift or Dredge, but instead decks that counter spells and control boards. Extended certainly has those, and while I quickly became less and less impressed with Chapin’s Protect the Queen deck, I wasn’t totally put off by Tezzeret itself. Tezzeret is an odd beast in that it truly has an answer to everything, but it is still vulnerable to a great deal of the cards that are already seeing play for different reasons. For example, a cards like Gaddock Teeg or Qasali Pridemage aren’t really in the Zoo deck for the Tezzeret match-up, but both end up being very superb at giving the Tezz deck a lot of trouble at virtually no cost. My biggest issue with Tezz as a whole turned out to be the Zoo match-up, actually, which was surprising considering that the deck was allegedly designed to not be troubled by Zoo.

The hotfix? Observe:

At first glance this list doesn’t appear that drastically different from the other Tezzeret lists I’m sure you’ve all seen, and at its core it really isn’t, but the important thing to note here is that I fully endorse Firespout in the sideboard. Firespout often won’t kill a Knight of the Reliquary or a Tarmogoyf, but it does hold off Zoo for quite a while. It also gets even better when you go up against Nelson Zoo, which is an even bigger plus. It isn’t thrilling against much else, but it obviously doesn’t need to be — Tezzeret is designed to deal with a lot of decks, but Zoo is Public Enemy Number One, which sometimes means dedicating many sideboard slots to beating it.

If I were to play Tezzeret this weekend, it would certainly be something similar to that decklist. However, I still feel like the deck is a tad clunky at times and can be unwieldy — for all its power and inevitability, I often felt in testing like whether or not I won games was very reliant on how well I drew, not how well I played or how well the deck was tuned. Yes, I realize that saying “the deck is bad because I can’t win unless I draw well” is a little absurd, but bear in mind what I really mean here: a mediocre hand with the other decks in this format is almost always better than the equivalent from the Tezzerator deck, at least in my opinion. For every game against Zoo that you have the Spell Snare on the draw or the Mana Leak up for his turn 2 Knight, you’ll find yourself with few plays and in seconds you can often fall too far behind to ever stand a chance of winning. I can’t fathom a reasonable solution, as in this case we’re dealing with a combo/control deck that needs to address finding its combo pieces, keeping creatures under control, and defending against opposing control decks. You could bulk up one or two of those areas, but ultimately at the cost of the third aspect altogether. The deck could just play lots of lifegain and creature removal to beat the Zoo deck, but then we’d be forgoing a considerable amount of the advantage that we have versus the control decks since we’d be turning our Negates and whatnot into Lightning Bolts and company.

Still, the deck is fine. It’s probably the “safest” choice for a PTQ, since it’s such a tried-and-true style of deck that is not only exceedingly adaptable but also very resilient to a lot of the cards used to hate on the combo or the nature of the deck itself. For me, it’s on the “maybe” list.

So, which decks do I just think don’t cut it? Here’s a quick checklist of how I went about trying to make this decision:

As an archetype, this is far better than it has been in recent years. The Lightning Bolt deck actually has Lightning Bolt this time around, and Goblin Guide + Teetering Peaks is some kind of sick. However, Kitchen Finks is very good, and Pulse of the Fields is nigh-unbeatable if you don’t plan for it (a.k.a. Everlasting Torment). I don’t think the deck is just straight bad, but as a player who prefers to play Islands I’d be lying if I told you that this deck was a good choice; I just don’t like Red much. Still, it has a good match-up with decks like Zoo most of the time, and it performs exceptionally well against the Faerie deck. If you’re looking for something cheap and easy to pilot for an upcoming PTQ, dealing 11 by the end of the second turn isn’t such a terrible approach to Extended.

Two of my playtest partners are playing this deck this Saturday, and I can’t help but feel like maybe that isn’t a great idea. Scapeshift isn’t a bad deck by any means, but the mirror is annoying and will be quite plentiful. You virtually can’t lose to the Rubin Zoo deck if you have Into the Roil for Gaddock Teeg, and even the Nelson Zoo is only moderately challenging. The problems for this deck are other blue decks that can out-maneuver it, such as Tezzeret or Faeries. Boseiju out of the sideboard helps a lot against these decks, but by how much? Many Scapeshift decks aren’t even playing Boseiju, and I’m concerned that those decks just don’t want to ever be able to beat an Island from the opposing player. Tezzeret decks pose an even greater threat, too, since their combo is not only more resilient to disruption but also very good at not losing to Valakut (the standard kill with Scapeshift, not the double-Valakut kill which would be required against the Tezz deck).

This is a good deck, and an excellent choice if you want to bye Zoo and instead make control decks your poor match-up. The problem at that point, however, is that control decks are becoming increasingly more popular, and as a result I’m not sure how long this deck will maintain its popularity. If you’re down to play mirrors all day, this is the deck for you (and Zoo, of course). In the end, though, this deck gets a “no thanks” from me.

I hate Rubin Zoo. I really, really do. I’ve said that before, and I don’t feel it needs much more repeating. I much prefer Nelson Zoo, as being a lot faster (a lot faster) in my mind totally trumps the added power boost from Baneslayer Angel and friends, as many of the decks that “beat Zoo” don’t usually beat the fast draws from the one-drop Zoo deck. Steppe Lynx is simply on a different level than any other one-drop ever printed, and although he’s lousy on defense he makes for some of the most explosive kills I’ve seen with an aggro deck in recent memory. This version of Zoo is definitely more susceptible to Engineered Explosives, but unless the opponent went first or had a Chrome Mox to drop Explosives a turn early, you usually won’t care a whole lot.

I’ve considered playing Zoo many times, but I’m not sure I could really get behind it. Even last year, when Saito Zoo was the clear-cut strongest deck, I made a last-minute decision just before turning in my deck registration sheet to instead play Faeries (I had registered two lists ahead of time). This year Islands (as a control tool) are admittedly less powerful than they were last year, but the fact is that I just don’t like 3/3s for 1 or anything like that. I need Mana Leaks and Spell Snares, you know?

I could go on to talk about decks like Affinity, Doran, Dark Depths, Dredge, etc, but there’s one deck that has been on my mind a lot recently, and I thought it was high time that I gave it a fair shot: Faeries.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading in the past week or two, and a lot of people have been commenting on how UB Faeries is actually monopolizing a good portion of the “control” metagame, both online and off. Could the updated version of a broken Standard deck really be that good? I used this list to try and find out:

This list is almost card-for-card the list from the PTQs last weekend, but I took the liberty of playing a third Doom Blade over the second Repeal and changed some things around in the sideboard.

I had zero faith in this deck coming into the season, as it just seems far too slow against the Zoo decks, but as the meta has developed the perks to piloting Faeries have begun to become clear. If you choose to play Faeries, you basically choose to bye your combo match-ups almost entirely — Scapeshift, Dark Depths, Hive Mind, and Hypergenesis decks all struggle quite a bit with Faeries. Dredge is very beatable with a dedicated sideboard (see above), and you’re obviously going to be beating on the fellow control decks based on the deck’s pedigree (that is, Faeries simply excels at out-controlling other control decks, and it continues to do so versus Tezzeret and its ilk). Affinity is still one hell of a match-up (made slightly better because of Bitterblossom), and Burn just sucks. Burn is beatable, but Goblin Guide and Hellspark Elemental are about as annoying as they come. Bitterblossom is probably boarded out in that match-up unlike it was against Standard Red decks, but that’s mostly because of the very different creature-to-burn ratio.

Zoo is the most important match-up, and the way Faeries handles it is hit or miss. In my testing, I was more or less 50/50 with Rubin Zoo, but it was very hard to lose games in which I got a live Jitte. That being said, I think with Deathmarks in the sideboard and additional Doom Blades in the maindeck (I want the fourth) the Zoo match-up can be made very positive, and if I can get it to a point that I’m comfortable with I may just give Faeries a go this weekend. Suspending Visions on 1 and Bitterblossom on 2 is as satisfying as ever, and that sequence of plays is still as potent as it used to be. Not playing a full set of Mistbinds or Cryptics feels odd, but Jitte makes up for the absence of the fourth copy of both of those cards as well as the missing boost in racing power that Scion of Oona once provided.

Faeries is likely going to be only getting better as the PTQ season goes on, and right now I think is a good time for me to see how it goes. I know that personally it’s between Faeries and Tezzeret for me this weekend, but I have a feeling that I’m going to go for the one that lets me play Blossom on 2. Just saying.

Best of luck to those PTQing, and I hope my decision-making process helped some of you with your own deck.

Until next time

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
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