Thirst For Knowledge – Looking To Extended

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Wednesday, December 30th – Extended season is nearly upon us, as luck would have it, and as a result I must say that I’m getting pretty excited to jump back into the PTQ circuit. This year’s Extended format isn’t nearly as fun as last year’s was for me personally (Faeries player at heart, remember?), but nevertheless I’m glad the format has so many viable decks this year

Welcome back from the holidays, everyone! I hope you all had as enjoyable a break as I did, as I know I personally was relieved to have some time off of school and responsibility. Time off is definitely great, but I admittedly took a little too much time off of Magic the past two weeks, as I was back in my hometown and away from my testing group. Still, I got a solid afternoon of testing in last week, and it helped me to catch up a bit on the Extended format since I last left it (that is, the weeks leading up to States).

Extended season is nearly upon us, as luck would have it, and as a result I must say that I’m getting pretty excited to jump back into the PTQ circuit. This year’s Extended format isn’t nearly as fun as last year’s was for me personally (Faeries player at heart, remember?), but nevertheless I’m glad the format has so many viable decks this year. Zoo is the clear-cut best deck based on percentages, but I know for a fact that I won’t be picking it up this season even once for a PTQ. And to be honest it isn’t just that I found the Zoo deck to be lacking (which I did), but more so that I just don’t like to play decks that like to attack, as I myself hate to attack. I’d much prefer to play with 2/2 zombie tokens or 1/1 Thopters, both of which are very real options to me.

But before I get more into those decks, I’d like to take a second to talk about Patrick Chapin Protect the Queen list:

Protect the Queen
Patrick Chapin

3 Baneslayer Angel
3 Kitchen Finks
1 Teferi, Mage Of Zhalfir

4 Cryptic Command
4 Mana Leak
3 Path To Exile
2 Spell Burst
3 Spell Snare
4 Thirst For Knowledge
3 Engineered Explosives
3 Relic Of Progenitus
2 Vedalken Shackles

1 Arid Mesa
1 Ghost Quarter
3 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Marsh Flats
2 Misty Rainforest
3 Scalding Tarn
1 Academy Ruins
1 Miren, The Moaning Well
3 Snow-covered Island
1 Snow-covered Plains
3 Island
1 Plains

My friend Jon brought this deck to the playtesting session we had last week, and I was a bit skeptical at first. I had apparently missed the article that this deck was taken from, but after playing with it for a bit I made a note to be sure and read through Pat’s article. His deck was good, although I’m still not sure how good. I only tested a handful of games with it, but I was smashing control mirrors and more or less dominating against Zoo, which was certainly a good start.

The first thing I noticed while playing this deck was how effective Relic of Progenitus could be against Zoo. Most decks that maindeck that card are only playing one or two, and as such you don’t normally see Relic in action against the Zoo deck unless you specifically board it in. While it obviously does very little against their Wild Nacatls and Knights, it did a superb job of keeping them off Punishing Fire shenanigans and making Tarmogoyfs seem like total push-overs. It’s hard to imagine a better one-drop against Zoo on the play, in fact, as going first means that you have nothing to spend your mana on the first turn anyway and laying a Relic that early can potentially make their multi-Goyf hands look really rather poor. I’m not sure I’d really keep them in against Zoo after game one as there are certainly better possibilities for that slot after board, but it felt like far less of a dead card in the maindeck as I had initially expected.

One thing I consistently hoped for while testing with Patrick’s deck was that I desperately wanted there to be more Paths in the maindeck. There are three already there, but the fourth is almost a necessity I feel. There is supposedly a fourth in the sideboard, and so in place of it I would put a Relic and remove one from the maindeck. Relic is effective against any combo or control deck utilizing Life from the Loam, Dredge, and (apparently) Zoo, but against the rest of the format it’s just a bad Spellbomb. Looking at it that way, I don’t feel too bad dropping one for another removal spell, especially Path to Exile.

Lastly, why Teferi? I of all people have longed to play with that guy again after Teachings left (though he saw some play in Faeries last year, to be fair), but is he really needed in this deck? I drew him in three different games, and in every single one I never wanted to cast him and I easily won without him. I realize that three games is not fifty games, but I literally just did not want to play him. At all. Two of the games I drew him I was playing against Zoo, though, where his biggest use is to flash in Baneslayers for the “surprise blocks,” which is a cute trick but overall pretty trivial. Teferi’s true value is clearly against the control decks (the reason why I question my first instinct on this one and haven’t made the decision to consider cutting him yet), but even then he still seems like an insignificant advantage. Ensuring that your spells resolve is all well and good, but with the control mirrors still packing cards like Vedalken Shackles and friends it still seems fairly risky to attempt to play with such a powerful effect on a creature. I mean, sure, he shuts down suspend, cascade, counterspells, and madness (I couldn’t think of anything relevant, sorry), but as a one-of he just seems kind of a waste. I’d probably prefer another Angel or Kitchen Finks in that slot, though I’m just going on a few games’ worth of testing at this point. Maybe Pat can offer me some more encouragement for the card?

In any case, I really liked the deck. The concept is simple: traditional UW control with a grossly-sick Spell Burst lockdown eventually. I can’t really complain with that, especially when Spell Burst is such an efficient spell in general against the mana costs in this meta. It’s also pretty unreal against Hypergenesis, as for four mana each turn you can always have a hard counter for their Hypergenesis. It’s strictly worse than a Broken Ambitions on turn 2 most of the time, but when you’re able to totally stave off opposition in topdeck wars you’ll hardly notice.

Still, is Protect the Queen the correct choice if one wanted to play control? Why not just play Tezzeret? I’m of the inclination that there probably is no good reason, as that deck has the counterspells and control elements that Protect the Queen has but also has inevitability by means of Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek and the ridiculousness of Gifts Ungiven. Add to that the fact that you can access a majority of your deck via Trinket Mage (or at least the vital parts) and you have probably the “best” deck in Extended (Zoo is the best-performing deck and Dredge is the most powerful, but Tezz is probably the most legitimate “best” deck based on all its strengths).

Luis Scott-Vargas

2 Trinket Mage
4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Cryptic Command
2 Tezzeret the Seeker
2 Gifts Ungiven
2 Mana Leak
3 Spell Snare
1 Muddle the Mixture
3 Path to Exile
1 Day of Judgment
1 Wrath of God
2 Thopter Foundry
1 Sword of the Meek
1 Chalice of the Void
3 Engineered Explosives

1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Vedalken Shackles
1 Aether Spellbomb
3 Chrome Mox

3 Arid Mesa
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Scalding Tarn
2 Hallowed Fountain
1 Steam Vents
1 Mystic Gate
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Academy Ruins
1 Tolaria West
1 Seat of the Synod
1 Ancient Den
3 Island
3 Snow-Covered Island
1 Plains
1 Snow-Covered Plains

3 Baneslayer Angel
3 Meddling Mage
2 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Negate
1 Path to Exile
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Pithing Needle

This deck just does it all, you know? It has a combo, an alternate win condition (Tezzeret), the best card-drawing spells on the market (Trinket Mage, Gifts Ungiven, Thirst for Knowledge), creature control (Wrath, Day, Path, Shackles, Explosives), and the best countermagic has to offer (Cryptic, Leak, Snare, Muddle) as well as plenty of ways to find whatever it is that the deck needs at any given time. Tezzeret has a strong combo match-up because it can tutor, and with so many options available to crush aggressive decks it’s no wonder that it does a decent number on the Zoo decks. I don’t particularly think that this list is perfect or anything, but it’s a beautiful start. The mana is tight, and spells are well-arranged, and the percentages are impressive. With all the Dredge hate building up, I’m strongly considering playing this deck instead of the graveyard deck, which makes me feel all giddy and warm inside since I was worried for a moment that a control deck wouldn’t be helping to define Extended for a freaking change. Glad things turned out well!

“But Chris,” you ask, “what’s so wrong with Zoo?” Well, aside from not liking the Combat Phase too much, my aversion to Zoo has more to do with the deck in particular than what archetype it is. You see, Rubin Zoo is the supposed “best deck” in the Extended format, and as such most people just assume it’s the infinite high and play it every chance they get. I gave that method a shot, actually, and returned sorely disappointed. In fact, the deck itself makes me fairly agitated.

For an example of why, consider this sample hand:

Treetop Village, Tarmogoyf, Lightning Bolt, Baneslayer Angel, Grove of the Burnwillows, Noble Hierarch, Wild Nacatl

I get hands like this all the time with Zoo. And for each I get like that, I get others like this:

Arid Mesa, Knight of the Reliquary, Punishing Fire, Tarmogoyf, Path to Exile, Temple Garden, Tarmogoyf

The second hand isn’t horrible, but it also isn’t the kind of hand I’d cross my fingers for. This kind of hand is actually one of the most common types of hands that the Rubin Zoo deck gets: I call them the “almost-theres.” They aren’t great hands, but they have all the necessary basics but might not have the stones to efficiently deal 20. The first hand, however, just blows. It doesn’t do anything very well, and has a useless 1/1 and an even more useless five-drop. I call those hands the “mulligan hands.”

Now while I’d keep the second hand, I wouldn’t be thrilled about it. I feel like the reduced creature count and the even further-reduced number of cheap creatures makes the Zoo archetype a lot less explosive, and overall creates more hands that just seem to be very slow — “almost-theres,” if you will. Conversely, the one-drop Zoo deck runs out of gas far too soon and tends to be too fast, and you don’t want that, either. The solution? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that some sort of meeting ground between the two would be a reasonable place to start. I’ll report more on this when I’ve given it a shot.

Alright, so I don’t like Zoo. I don’t totally hate aggro in general, though, as I’m actually going to strongly suggest to you all that you play an aggro deck at your first Extended PTQ. Which, you ask? This one:

Chris Jobin

4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Frogmite
4 Myr Enforcer
4 Ornithopter
3 Master of Etherium

4 Springleaf Drum
4 Cranial Plating
4 Chromatic Star
4 Thoughtcast
3 Thopter Foundry

4 Seat of the Synod
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Ancient Den
2 Blinkmoth Nexus
3 Darksteel Citadel
1 Island

3 Relic of Progenitus
4 Path to Exile
4 Ethersworn Canonist
4 Thoughtseize

Yep, no joke. I mean, think about it: who’s going to really be pacing heat for you? Because, to be frank, I don’t consider Qasali Pridemage “tech” against Affinity, and the only deck with Ancient Grudge these days is Dredge (and you can beat them with Relics and speed regardless). I’m not suggesting that Affinity is better than Zoo or something ridiculous like that, but the first few PTQs seem like ideal places to score easy wins with this archetype. Ravager itself took quite the hit this year when it lost the ability to stack combat damage, but I wouldn’t be too concerned with all of that — just swing with 12/2s and be happy about it! Besides, this is Affinity’s last year in Extended — once it’s gone, it will forever fade into the plethora of tier 3 Legacy decks, never to win tournaments ever again…

Before I take off (I have to pack to return to school), I’d like to talk a bit about Magic itself. I’ve already made it clear that I owe a lot to this game, and that hasn’t changed. I have more friends and experiences because of this game than I ever would have otherwise, and I’ve grown so much as a person as a result of playing Magic that I can’t even fathom where I’d be without it in my life. I’ve been trying to reach the Pro Tour for a few years now, and I know that if I keep it up my day will eventually come. This New Year, though, makes my tenth year playing the game, and also a brand new decade. That being said, I’m making my New Year’s Resolution a bold one: to make the Pro Tour. I understand that these resolutions are intended to be something that is at least marginally reasonable to obtain, but I feel as though with enough time an effort put in I can make it a reality. And even if I don’t (which is also very possibly, of course), I can just shake it off and try even harder the following year. I still have the fire.

Switching gears from Magic to wrap things up, I thought I’d offer you all the chance to kick the crap out of me in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 which I finally own. I realize I’m over a month late, and so the beatings I’ll be receiving on Xbox Live will certainly know no match, but nonetheless I’m always down for some gunfights. My gamertag is “a lil tumor,” so get at me!

Happy New Year, everyone, and the best of luck with your Magical endeavors in 2010! Be safe, and please drink responsibly!

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO