Thirst For Knowledge – The First Extended PTQs

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Dallas/Fort Worth!
Wednesday, January 6th – And just like that, the first week of Extended PTQs has come and gone. In order to better prepare for the future metagame, it’s important to take a good hard look at the results from last weekend. Let’s get started!

And just like that, the first week of Extended PTQs has come and gone. In order to better prepare for the future metagame, it’s important to take a good hard look at the results from last weekend. Let’s get started!

The first thing to notice is what the most popular decks were at each PTQ (keep in mind that I’ll be using the two MTGO PTQs for this data). My good friend Rich Franklin sent me the numbers for both tournaments, and the first PTQ had these three decks being the most-represented:

Burn — 18.9% of the metagame
Scapeshift — 14.8% of the metagame
Dark Depths — 9.5% of the metagame

And the second PTQ…

Burn — 17. 5% of the metagame
Scapeshift — 16.3% of the metagame
Dredge — 8.75% of the metagame
Dark Depths – 7.5% of the metagame

These numbers suggest that Burn is either the most popular deck based on its viability or general attraction to players, or because it is merely the cheapest deck to purchase on MTGO. I’m inclined to think that it is the deck’s price tag that made it so popular, but regardless, it’s hard to say if the deck’s infestation of the MTGO meta will carry over to Paper Magic or not (it’s still a cheap deck in real life, although most people have the cards for an Extended deck outside of the MTGO environment). Burn did put two players into Top 8 of the first PTQ, though neither one won the event. The second PTQ featured zero copies of the deck in Top 8.

Alright, so Burn’s popularity on MTGO is probably a fluke and we might not be able to attribute much to the data concerning it. However, it is hard to ignore the numbers that Scapeshift has been putting up, both in these tournaments and in the past few weeks on MTGO in general. It, along with All-In Red, are by far the most-played decks in 8-man and 1v1 queues on MTGO, and these PTQs results reflect that fairly well (AIR was among the top decks percentage-wise, but the number was significant enough to discuss). I admittedly haven’t spent much time with Scapeshift, but even so I’m a little taken aback by the sheer number of players picking the deck up on MTGO. Once again, the deck is relatively cheap, but not drastically more so than, say, a Dredge deck or something. It doesn’t contain Baneslayer Angel, though, so that might be playing a significant role.

As I said before, a lot of players have access to cards like Baneslayer Angel or Tarmogoyf, but few have such access on MTGO for these PTQs. Looking at it that way, it will be interesting to see how accurate these online PTQs results are at assessing the real metagame in the next few weeks.

Next, let’s take a look at the Top 8 from the Saturday PTQ:

1st — Doran
2nd — Tribal Zoo
3rd — Burn
4th — Faeries
5th — Burn
6th — Rubin Zoo (w/ Bant Charm)
7th — All-In Red
8th — Dark Depths

And the Sunday PTQ…

1st – Affinity
2nd — Bant
3rd – Nelson Zoo
4th — Death Cloud (w/ MD Cranial Extraction!)
5th — Tezzeret
6th — Dark Depths
7th — Sliver Aggro
8th — Dark Depths

Interesting, no? Doran took down a PTQ in which only three total Doran decks were present (that number might be slightly off, but we know it wasn’t more than a handful), and Affinity also was able to nab a win. I know that after I suggested Affinity last week in my article I got a lot of responses along the lines of “why wouldn’t you just play Zoo,” but I think the element of surprise that Affinity has as well as its general immunity to cards like Engineered Explosives made it a decent choice to take to a PTQ. Given that the second PTQ’s field was only 1.4% made up of Affinity decks (what, one or two at that point?) and it ended up winning the whole thing, I’d say that it was a decent prediction. However, these particular PTQs don’t necessarily represent the real world meta, as Zoo would undoubtedly be more popular than it was this past weekend. In that light, Affinity becomes a riskier choice, and maybe even a bad one. Still, it has a good game against the control decks and is often faster than decks like Scapeshift or Dark Depths, so it’s only real weakness is the Zoo deck (but oh what a terrible weakness to have).

More interesting than Affinity’s win, though, is Doran’s. Let’s look at the decklist:

During a playtest session a few days ago, my friend Jayme asked me why I thought that Doran wasn’t a viable deck in Extended, to which I shrugged and said “it does too much one-for-one trading.” That statement is very true — much like Bant, the Doran deck simply doesn’t gain much card advantage from any of its cards aside from Dark Confidant. I don’t particularly think that one-for-one trading is really ever that bad, but in a format like Extended you often need more than that. Still, trading 2-for-1s for 5/5s on turn 2 and a boatload of disruption could just be good enough to be worth it, and this Doran deck is certainly making a valiant effort.

The creature package is card-for-card what you’d expect for a deck of this nature — efficient, aggressive creatures that either generate card advantage (Confidant), deal with threats (Pridemage), or just beat face (Finks, Tarmogoyf, Doran). With Duress and Thoughtseize you have a steady means to attack the opponent’s hand, and Pulse, Putrefy, Path, and Profane Command clear the way. I would’ve liked to have seen an Eternal Witness or two in this list, though, as I have always been very impressed with that card on Rock decks, and even more so any time Profane Command is present due to the mini combo between those two cards. I’d argue that Witness is probably pound-for-pound a better card in the maindeck for this deck than Kitchen Finks, but I believe Finks was chosen due to a predicted Red meta. Looking at the sideboard, I think it’s safe to say that was the case.

Calcano chose to play six dedicated cards for the Red match-up, but I’m willing to bet he likely never dropped a post-board game versus any of those decks. Circle of Protection: Red must have been an absolute MVP for him all day long against the Burn-saturated field, and I’m sure Forge-Tender wasn’t just twiddling her thumbs. There’s also a fair amount of Dredge hate (Teeg works versus Dredge as well, which is probably why he chose Crypt over Trap), not to mention the Meddling Mages for combo and control decks (including Dredge, again). I think in a less Red-heavy meta (such as Paper Magic), I’d move the Finks to the sideboard in favor of at least two Eternal Witnesses and move out the Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders. The rest of the sideboard looks really solid regardless.

In the same testing session in which I was asked about Doran, I was also asked about Tidehollow Sculler. My theory for why it didn’t see much play was twofold: one, it had no deck, and also because it just wasn’t really much better than Thoughtseize. Brian Kibler told me once that he felt that discard was fairly weak at dealing with this format, and while I’m more in agreement with him than I was back then, I still see the merit and benefits to playing a deck with Thoughtseizes and Duresses. The question now, though, is Tidehollow Sculler better than either of those cards in a deck that can support its casting cost? Sculler was a core piece of the Doran deck last year in Extended (you know, the one that lasted for three PTQs or so?), but I’m not really sold on it this year. It seems to me that if you were to play Sculler, you’d make yourself even more vulnerable to Spell Snare and shut off some strong plays on the second turn that were only possible because of Duress/Thoughtseize. For example, with the deck as it is now you can drop a Hierarch on 1 and then Thoughtseize them the next turn for their counterspell and drop a 3/4 Tarmogoyf. I think I much prefer that to Noble Hierarch on 1 and then Sculler on 2 with a mana open, still holding Tarmogoyf. Because Doran trades one-for-one so much, you want to play the tempo game as much as you can, and although Sculler strip them of cards and beats, he doesn’t allow you to “cheat” turn 2 like Doran or the Duress/Tarmogoyf setups do, and that kind of makes it a weaker card than it used to be. Oh, and so does Path to Exile. And Pridemage. On second thought, maybe that whole analysis wasn’t even necessary?

In short, I’m actually excited to give the Doran deck a spin. Like I said, it seems like Eternal Witness is a lot stronger in this meta than Kitchen Finks (at least for this deck), but I’ll have to give it a whirl before I know for sure.

The only other PTQ results I can comment on are the ones I have from hearsay on the Minnesota PTQ, which report a Top 8 like this:





Rubin Zoo

Tribal Zoo


BWR rogue deck

The Top 4 was Faeries, Tribal Zoo, the BWR deck, and Affinity, with Tribal Zoo beating Faeries in the finals. This result is a bit more of what I would expect to see in the actual Paper Magic metagame, with combo, control, and Zoo being well-represented in the Top 8 and Top 4. This Top 8 actually has a Scapeshift deck, which is slightly encouraging for those playing that deck since it performed so badly in the online PTQs despite being so plentiful. There’s yet another Affinity deck here, as well as another Dredge deck — both decks that can be easily hated, but still managed to either totally avoid hate or fight through it. The two control decks in this Top 8, Faeries and Tezzeret, had a pretty uphill battle. Tezzeret clearly didn’t make it too far, but Faeries surprisingly did. I’m not really confident in that deck this season at all, but it has a good match-up with any combo deck if it really wants to (even Dredge) and does a decent number on the Zoo deck if it has a moderately exciting hand. Affinity is very good against the Faerie deck, however, and Faeries did not have to play it to make it to the finals — had it done so, I think the results might have been altogether different.

So when all is said and done, what do we have to show for it? Burn and Scapeshift are the most popular decks on MTGO by a long shot, but Doran and Affinity were the best-performing in terms of number of decks compared of overall performance. If anyone out there plays a lot of MTGO and could shed some light onto why the Red deck was so abundant (though I’m quite sure it’s just the price tag), please leave a comment in the forums.

Faeries is actually pulling its weight, and Dark Depths hasn’t been entirely forgotten. Dredge made up much less of the meta than I had expected it to, but I’d wager that as the season goes on that deck will do what it has always done — lay low until people say things like “no one plays Dredge, I can cut these Crypts” and then blow out an entire PTQ. There are only a handful of PTQs before Worldwake comes out, but I think Zoo, Affinity, Scapeshift, Blue-based control, and Dark Depths will likely be the strongest choices. I do encourage giving Doran a try, though, as I have a feeling it might be, at worst, a powerful Tier 2 deck.

That’s it for this week. Happy PTQing!

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO