Throwing Down The Gauntlet: Extended Overview

For those who want an early jump on Extended season, now is one of the best time to start thinking about general archetypes to prepare for, and even specific decks in broad terms. Figuring out the general points the field may share is a great way to at least narrow the deck choices from a good fifteen or so. Besides it’s never too early to start testing against the “classic” decks like Tog, Boros Deck Wins, and U/G Desire.

For those who want an early jump on Extended season, now is one of the best time to start thinking about general archetypes to prepare for, and even specific decks in broad terms. Figuring out the general points the field may share is a great way to at least narrow the deck choices from a good fifteen* or so. Besides it’s never too early to start testing against the “classic” decks like Tog, Boros Deck Wins, and U/G Desire. Even if the decks exact contents change or your own deck choice becomes different, general experience against these types of decks is one of the best tools you can have for large PTQs.

*There may be even more, depending on how seriously you take some of the weirder creations that saw play by the end of the season.

So all of that being said, I’ll break down what I believe are the five main super-archetypes you should be testing 1-2 decks from when considering a potential deck. These will just be short overviews and I’ll be going more in-depth with each category in their own articles the closer we get to the season. This is just for those who want to get a jump-start on testing for the new Extended.

Normal Aggro (Swarm Aggro)
This category would just be aggro decks that focus entirely on playing a number of early weenies, typically backed by burn. These decks are probably the most simplistic of the bunch as far as broad deck design and playing go. Fully optimized versions of these decks with skilled pilots will still be a very dangerous thing.

Thanks to some of the goodies from Time Spiral coming in… Tormod’s Crypt, Magus of the Scroll, Sudden Shock, Soltari Priest, and Serra Avenger all look to have serious potential in breaking open the Tog and mid-range aggro matches. Thus making the true winner of the Time Spiral sweepstakes (for the time being) Boros Deck Wins. However I have split the two main BDW variations of LD and no LD, because they have enough fundamental changes to play strategy to warrant it.

Zoo and Goblins will both probably be underdeveloped and underrated all season, but both have very strong cores to build around.

Decks to consider: Zoo, BDW (creature and burn only versions), and Goblins.

Aggro-Combo (Synergy Aggro)
Aggro that relies on a specific synergy in the deck for an overwhelming beatdown machine. Not quite the classic definition, but close enough for our needs. Basically decks that are faster, meaner, and have secondary kill conditions that are larger in scope than typical “Helix to dome you.” No, these are more like “cast Life from the Loam,” and activate “Seismic Assault to the dome for ten,” or “whoops, I drew Cranial Plating, take nine.”

Decks to consider: Affinity, Loam Aggro and MadTog.

Aggro-Control (Midrange Decks)
Aggro abusing early-game threats or cards that specifically help the mid-game. They love playing efficient men, disruption and trump cards to take over the mid-game. At that point the game is practically over, as you’re left with few resources to stop a significant board threat and a opponent with potential answers still.

Old decks that will still be around to piss in the pool are both versions of The Rock, the mana-denial oriented BDW, and metagame-hate R/G decks. A B/W disruption deck can be built now, the main question being if building it like older Pox decks – thanks to Smallpox – or more aggro-ish like the Pikula’s legacy version of the deck. Both have real merits and can abuse Smallpox with its normal discard and Vindicate base. The Rack makes a creature-light version possible as well.

Then again, perhaps everyone wants to play the so called "Green" decks that add other colors to not suck. Or Chalice Green, which is just an awful deck developed for a very specific metagame threat that won’t be anywhere near as prominent in a real metagame.

Decks to consider: Aggro / Gifts Rock, Gro, B/W Disruption, W/U Solution, BDW w/ large LD components, and R/G Beats.

Control (Board control)
Typical board control decks rely on the old school draw-go, remove, answer, and trump sequence of plans. This archetype was largely replaced by combo-control, but some played this type of deck with some success last season. This coming season may actually be one of the best times to be playing one of these types of decks. They set you up with some of the best hosers and answers to the metagame with Wrath of God, Disenchant, Tormod’s Crypt, and even Cranial Extraction (so maybe you want a slight splash), with Fact or Fiction backing everything up. Not to mention these decks are typically the best set-up to destroy typical aggressive decks, thanks to Pulse of the Fields and the aforementioned Wrath.

Besides that? These decks typically have far fewer weak-points to strike than Tog or Scepter-Chant (The two most popular control decks), which is becoming increasingly relevant with maindeck Pithing Needle, not to mention Sudden Shock and Tormod’s Crypt being printed. Hence we may see the popularity of the “old school” style decks climb a little this season. Besides, they get cute cards like Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and Whispers of the Muse to play with.

Decks to consider: W/U Control (Soorani Control), CAL, and 4/5C Good Stuff.

Control taking control of the game long enough before shutting it down completely or winning through a quick kill mechanism. Yeah, obvious huh? Right now I only see two decks that actually fall under this category: Scepter Chant (No Stick) and Tog.

Unfortunately, although the last few sets haven’t brought much for the old favorites, it has brought a host of new problems for the decks to deal with. Sudden Shock, Sudden Death, and Wipe Away should be obvious in there implications against Psychatog decks. Not to mention Tormod’s Crypt may be brought in simply to make the Tog player work even harder for his kills. Smallpox also seems patently ridiculous against a deck that can’t stand getting knocked off its curve against aggro, especially while losing Dr. Teeth at the same time.

Scepter decks aren’t off the hook either, though; a host of new anti-artifact cards have been printed to make the lock or “Helix you infi” plans much harder. Krosan Grip and Ancient Grudge will mean far more reliance on Eternal Dragon, Decree of Justice, and Exalted Angel beatings for wins; which opens it up to the same anti-Tog options that may see play. Meanwhile cards like Cryoclasm and Demonfire will just make life miserable for both decks anyway.

On the bright side, these decks already had a very high power-base to begin with and should be able to cope with almost any metagame configuration once it’s stabilized.

Decks to consider: Scepter-Chant and Tog

Be greedy. Be destructive. Just ruin your opponents sh**. Not descriptive enough? Run a specific combination of cards that result in an insurmountable board advantage or game win when combined. Got it now?

The best combo deck from last season was easily U/G Desire, and I see no reason why it won’t be this season either. I doubt it’ll see heavy play, because no matter how good it is, people will get pissed off in testing because they punt four out of every ten games from stupid mistakes in addition to the normal losses. In addition they’ll now have to deal with Gaea’s Blessing and Tormod’s Crypt to make going off a bit more interesting. Good players that have tested heavily with the deck will continue to do well. Everyone else will either have the deck riding pine or play it and take a bunch of losses.

Decks to consider: Desire, Guilty Stuff (Guilty Conscience and Stuffy Doll), Balancing Tings, and Tooth & Nail

Observations About Extended

Aggro Loam Is Overrated
Even before the confirmation of Tormod’s Crypt returning to us in Time Spiral, the deck had a number of issues that needed to be addressed. However many people continued to state with certainty that the deck was just that much better than everything else. Intrigued by the amount of hype the deck had gotten, I began testing a few versions as well as having testing partners throw it up against me in a gauntlet test session. The results were a bit less encouraging than I had expected; however, I gained some insight into why the deck was losing and possibly why it had done so much better on MTGO.

Drawbacks of the deck

The manabase has a very low tolerance to disruption

This surprised me since the deck does run a number of Life from the Loam and can generally get all the colors it needs to function. My main issue with the deck is when it doesn’t curve properly, and falls one mana short of four or meets any sort of resistance along the way. I couldn’t believe the amount of damage the deck was dealt by a dual being hit with a Molten Rain or Pillage from BDW. And god forbid you ever get hit by a Plow Under or opposing Thoughts of Ruin, where your future development would be heavily crippled.

Isochron Scepter and other resolved artifacts / enchantments are very difficult to beat

This drawback, however, did not shock me in the least. The deck has major issues with trumping resolved permanents that can lock the game up. It only has Burning Wish to find answers; plus the answers are hampered by sorcery speed, additional mana investment, and lack of protection. Honestly, you’ll rarely trump a second turn Scepter with a relevant spell on it, or a protected Scepter later in the game. Solitary Confinement and Astral Slide can both put major dents in winning in any reasonable time-frame, and even cards like Ensnaring Bridge and Vedalken Shackles can be pains in certain cases. You can add Tormod’s Crypt to that list now if you’d like.

Very little relevant disruption for decks that can race

Let me briefly sum up the U/G Desire match, for those of you that haven’t tried it yet. If you don’t resolve Thoughts of Ruin / Devastating Dreams or win on turn 4 (assuming they have no Moment’s Peace), you scoop it up. Combo like this is simply too fast for an aggro deck to beat on a regular basis, and Aggro Loam has it even worse because there is no simple answer to the deck for it to run.

Other decks that can win quickly, like Affinity, also had solid matches against the deck simply because it could ignore it for the most part. Flying men with Cranial Plating attached have to be dealt with ASAP or you automatically lose. Arcbound Ravager and Myr Enforcer can face down anyone on the other side of the table this side of an overgrown Terravore. If the Affinity deck happened to pack Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, it was able to seriously hamper the ability of the deck to continually pump out large threats while cycling through the library.

On the bright side, decks like Affinity can be metagamed against far easier than combo decks that almost you to pack counters or discard to do well.

However, testing also showed me why the deck was so popular online. It had a few strong points that showed how it could truly shine as a dominant deck in the right metagame.

Upsides of the deck

It can make good use of it’s mana every turn and has a strong curve

The one thing I loved about the deck was how it was always doing something. If it wasn’t laying a Wild Mongrel, it was cycling lands to draw more relevant cards. If it wasn’t burning something off the board, it was replenishing its hand with Life From The Loam. This deck nearly always has something to do with its mana at every stage of the game. In addition, threats like Terravore, Wild Mongrel and Seismic Assault all get stronger as the game goes on. This gives it a seemingly never-ending flood of threats while maximizing its in-game resources.

Variety of attack options

The other thing Aggro Loam has going for it is the variety of attacks it can pull off. You’ve got various sized monsters on the ground that are all more difficult to kill as the game goes on. The deck has burn options in Seismic Assault, Firebolt, and Lightning Helix. It runs a draw engine that’s the rough equivalent to drawing three new cards a turn, once it gets functioning. Heck, it even has a mana denial bomb in Thoughts or Dreams that can seal many games in it’s favor.

It ruins aggro decks

Please let me run out Wild Mongrel and huge Terravores all day against creature decks. Especially when its backed up by Lightning Helix, and post-board you even had the option of switching into a Solitary Confinement pseudo-lock deck.

The reason I believe the deck had been so successful was the lack of combo and Scepter Chant decks that are online. I’m not saying they see no play, but in comparison to decks like Gifts Rock, Boros Deck Wins, and others, these decks make up a relatively small portion of the field. Aggro Loam does have very good aggro and Tog matches, which gives it a great percentage against the general metagame your likely to face on MTGO. I think in the real world, where budget concerns aren’t a concern and top-flight players will be packing the aforementioned decks, Aggro Loam takes a big hit.

All this, and I barely mention Tormod’s Crypt impact on it. Sweet. For those who I want to feel on that subject, just keep reading.

Time Spiral Impacts

I think I can sum up this section in one phrase for those with A.D.D.

Needs more Sudden Shock.

The biggest impact Time Spiral seems to have at first glance is to completely change the dynamics of the Boros Deck Wins vs. Tog matchup and suddenly turns three of the best creatures in extended (Psychatog, Wild Mongrel and Arcbound Ravager) into liabilities. I can see nearly every single red deck wanting to run 4 of these for reasons that have already been said in a dozen articles or more. So I won’t bore you with any other reasons why this is the bee’s knees.

Tormod’s Crypt brings the other goodness, in that it completely destroys Ichorid decks. Now every deck has an easy solution to the entire gameplan of the deck, all for the low, low price of nothing! In addition to that, Life From The Loam and Dredge decks in general no longer have a free pass to play only cycling lands and Life From The Loam as an engine. Despite its obvious strength however, I think people are overrating how damaging it’ll be to decks like Tog and Aggro Loam. Pithing Needle still answers it, hitting one Life From The Loam in a graveyard usually isn’t crippling and other split second cards like Wipe Away, Trickbind and Krosan Grip can answer it in Cunning Wish sideboards.

I’m not saying that Crypt isn’t strong; in fact, it’s one of the Top 3 Time Spiral cards as far as Extended is concerned. It’s simply a matter of properly putting the strength in context and how crippling it is to decks that aren’t Ichorid. In that sense it ranges from a minor dent (Normal Tog), to ouch (Aggro Loam) to crippling (Itchy); meanwhile, it’s rather mediocre against the other half of the field. So I’m tired of reading how it’s the savior of the new world, but I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t see infinite sideboard play.

Krosan Grip was probably the most overrated card as far as hosing archetypes go. Not only does it not solve the issue of most decks with Green in them losing to Scepter decks in the first place, but think about the decks that may actually use the card.

The Rock, which doesn’t even need the card
U/G Desire as a Wish target, which makes no sense since it already has the Brain Freeze plan post-board
Tog as a Wish target
G/R decks that want Oxidize, but will think Grip is "tech"

Yeah, call me crazy, but I really don’t think the card will hurt or even see much play to deal with an underplayed deck.

Oh, and a big FYI to those Extended players dismissing Psychatog and Scepter-Chant, just a tip, but the decks still are very strong. I know Split Second will supposedly tip the environment into resembling The World of Ruin, but these decks were incredibly strong before. Just because a few “hosers” were printed doesn’t mean the decks won’t adapt and do well in the new format. Especially when the new format looks to be infested with more aggressive decks looking to take advantage of the time Sudden Shock and Crypt brings.

As for Reanimator strategies, you think Wizards was pushing this much for Extended? And then printing a great hoser to subsequently keep them in line? One could make a serious case for normal Reanimator over Ichorid with creatures like Akroma, Angel of Wrath; Avatar of Woe; and Nicol Bolas coming back into the format. Better still, we can run a hybrid strategy thanks to Dread Return! We get to attack with the Ichorids and Nether Traitors and then bring back a bigger guy.

You know, because there’s no way turn 2 Goryo’s Vengeance bringing back Nicol Bolas and you losing your entire hand and taking 7 is unfair. Not a chance.

How utterly retarded are the BDW mirrors going to be this season? We’ve got Silver Knight, Soltari Priest, and maybe even Knight of the Holy Nimbus coming it to knock heads with one another. Priest changes the typical Red mirror by being non-blockable and non-burnable, which allows it to safely cash all attack paychecks. This gets ridiculous with any equipment; let alone Umezawa’s Jitte. Both Knight’s are difficult to kill in combat and have built-in burn protection that makes it hard for one side to knock down the numbers of the other. It’ll definitely be interesting to see if it’s still “race to the first big threat” or if more low-key tactics are taken in breaking open the mirror like adding White removal of some kind or usage of Pithing Needle.

Bonus Section – Music

Teranoid – Ayakashi (Teranoid vs. Betwixt & Between)
DJ Tiesto – In My Memory
Rie Fu – Life is like a boat

For reference:
Teranoid song = Hardcore Techno Mix, <3 her work
DJ Tiesto = Light Trance, solid DJ
Rie Fu – Japanese singer with a great voice that sings most of her songs mainly in English (Fans of Bleach will recognize this as the end song)

And that’s all for now. Expect more in-depth overviews for each section later, along with the continued Yomi series. Until then.

Joshua Silvestri
Team Reflection
E-mail me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom