You Lika The Juice? – Pivot to Extended

Read Bennie Smith every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Tuesday, February 26th – Today I was supposed to tell you all how I did at the big $5K Star City Standard Open down in Charlotte, North Carolina. With any luck, I would have kicked ass and been featured in the Magic Show making my way to the Top 8. At least, that was the plan…


Today I was supposed to tell you all how I did at the big $5K Star City Standard Open down in Charlotte, North Carolina. With any luck, I would have kicked ass and been featured in the Magic Show making my way to the Top 8. I was going to play one of two varieties of the Green and the Black, and inspired people the world over to take my creation to their next Friday Night Magic and win some cool promo cards.

That was the plan.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find a ride down there; all the usual suspects seemed to have other plans and/or car issues. My 11-year-old Dodge Caravan’s “check engine” light is perpetually on, and though my mechanic says it’s because the oxygen sensor is bad and not that big of a deal (and will cost frickin’ $200+ to fix), I still didn’t feel comfortable taking it for a 10 hour drive this weekend with the “check engine” light eyeballing me like Lou Gossett Jr. the whole way. Even though I tend to be an optimistic, glass-half-full kinda guy, Murphy’s Law kicks my ass enough for me to be paranoid on occasion. If the engine craps out I don’t want to be 300 miles from home and my brother-in-law mechanic and forced to turn my ancient minivan over to the tender mercies of some random North Carolinian service station on a weekend.

New plan – hit the local Friday Night Magic instead. While not nearly as much fun as the big Magic extravaganza down in Charlotte, it would be fun to either draft or play Standard. Sadly, my local shop was holding Two-Headed Giant Standard, which does not hold a candle to 2HG Limited in terms of fun. From a competitive standpoint, pretty much the best option is to play a combo deck paired with a deck full of counterspells. Unfortunately, I did not have either sort of deck built, so I just trekked down there with my build of G/B “Damnation Control” based off Sam Shi Xian’s semi-finalist deck from Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur’s $2,000 Amateur Challenge, which was one of the decks I was considering for Charlotte. I was hoping there would be somebody looking for a partner, and sure enough I got to team up with Jessica “The Executioner” Miller (her nickname earned from an Elder Dragon Highlander game I talked about here). She’s got a choice of Kithkin or a Red/Black goblin/burn deck. At last week’s City Champs Qualifier, I heard that her Kithkin deck had smashed a Reveillark combo deck, and since I was fairly sure somebody here would do the Combo/Control gambit I thought it might be nice to have someone who could lay the smack down, while my Green/Black deck provided some disruption and creature control.

Randomly tossing together two Standard decks is really not the best idea, especially since this shop has 2HG Standard occasionally, so there are a cadre of players who plan out the decks the team is going to play. For instance, we got crushed by a team of highly synergistic Merfolk decks, and of course we get annihilated by the team running the obvious team of Reveillark combo and Teferi control, chock full of a gazillion counterspells. I did draw my one random Offalsnout (fetchable with Primal Command), and when Reveillark went off I got rid of one of the combo pieces. He had his maindeck Pull from Eternity to just put the creature back in the graveyard where he can continue going off.

Not surprisingly, the Reveillark/Teferi team won the whole thing. Good times, eh?

For the Charlotte Standard, the other deck I was strongly considering is Black/Green Warriors deck with Sudden Spoiling technology I mentioned last week. Fellow Star City geezer Carl Wilt and I have been tossing emails back and forth on the Warriors concept, and he’d been getting some good results with Cream of the Crop in his Mono-Green build. When I built a Green/Black version, Cream of the Crop was dropped because I’d been a bit disappointed with my initial testing of Cream in some other decks. Carl followed up on my article last week:

I have one suggestion on the deck you built inspired off of my deck. Drop the Profane Commands and one of the three Garruks for four Cream of the Crop. I know, it sound like sacrilege. Hear me out. Both Garruk and the Commands are big money, big impact cards. But what you really want to draw is Sudden Spoiling more than anything else.

The problem with the deck is that it plays fair. You are drawing no extra cards, have no tutor effects, and no way to stack yourself for better draws or manipulate your deck. If you can’t or don’t draw your Spoiling when you need it, it can’t help you. That’s where Cream of the Crop comes in. It allows you to dig deeper and deeper for every dude to get to that Spoiling sooner. You want to play four because you want one as early as possible. And, unlike some cards that are dead in duplicates, these will all trigger if you have multiples in play. So, you resolve the first one… let’s say for four. Don’t like them? Put one card on top, the others on the bottom, and look again. And, if you don’t want duplicates of the Cream in play, just put them on the bottom. With as much manipulation as this gives you, you can afford to only run two Garruks as you will still see them fairly often.

The toughest cut is Profane Command from the main deck. Unfortunately, between the beaters you have and the trample provided by the Paragon and the Battle-Axe, many times the Command turns into just a “Win-More” card. I still think this has a place in the sideboard, but if I had to remove something for Cream of the Crop, those were the easiest things to remove. And, they can come right in for the Sudden Spoilings if you are playing something that the Spoiling is not as good against (I would keep the Spoilings in against the mirror/quasi-mirror and other aggro decks).

I tested this a couple times on Magic Workstation, and, again, it still comes out fairly well (although the Mono-Green build is still a touch faster, it does not have all the answers that your deck does). And I did get the God-Cream… I had Paragon, Perfect, Battle-Axe, and Cream out, and played the Colossus. Can you say “Cream for 8″…? (4 base, +1 from Perfect, +1 from the counter from Paragon, +2 from the Battle-Axe).

Carl had a nice point with Profane Command, since with a Battle-Axe out there you’re likely going to be dropping a Warrior into play and swinging each turn as opposed to trying to give all the guys in play fear the turn after you play ‘em. I still had the fantasy of doing a six-point Profane Command, killing a creature, reanimating Chameleon Colossus, attaching an Axe to it and swinging, but I think Carl’s points about Cream of the Crop were spot on. Here’s what I was leaning towards playing down in Charlotte:

(I have acquired a second Mutavault, yay!)

I have no idea how the deck would have fared down in Charlotte, where Reveillark and Red/Green Big Mana seems to have done very well, but it would have been fun to see. Congrats to my man Chris Woltereck, who was doing some serious ass-kicking and apparently rolled into the Top 8. I hope you won the trophy! [Yes he did… the man’s a machine — Craig, impressed.]

Woulda, shoulda, coulda. Sigh. So now I pivot to Extended for the PTQ this Saturday here in Richmond, my last shot at a plane ticket to Hollywood. In early January I ran a Doran deck with some differences from the stock version I thought were pretty good, and I was a Stifle away from having a good shot at making Top 8.

Since then, Doran decks have been chugging along with a fair share of Top 8s and blue envelopes, and recently there have even been some slower “Rock” decks making waves, so I have hopes that running it wouldn’t be akin to throwing $25 out the window. I still really like the idea of using Tireless Tribe to give the deck the ability to end games quickly, and in light of Previous Level Blue winning this weekend’s Grand Prix I’m hoping there will be fewer Counterbalances to worry about. To help pull the Tireless Tribe/Doran combination together, I’m following the lead of some winning Doran decks going with some copies of Treefolk Harbinger to go fetch up Doran (or to go get the Murmuring Bosk you’ll need to fix your mana). I’m also considering some number of Harmonizes to complement Dark Confidant to keep your hand full; after all, each card in hand can be cashed in for +4 damage with a Doran in play.

Tireless Tribe also gives you nice resistance to opposing Dorans, and having a spare creature around certainly helps with Cabal Therapy shenanigans. Here’s the build I’m considering taking to the PTQ Saturday:

There’s an awful lot of Islands running around Extended nowadays, which makes me think it’s time to break out the Chokes. Should I kick it old-school Jamie Wakefield style and run Root Maze too?

I am also concerned about the rising number of burn and heavily Red decks indicated by the metagame breakout from the Grand Prix, especially since it’s hard to find room for Loxodon Hierarchs in the maindeck. Sphere of Law is a strong sideboard consideration. I also hate pulling back on the Eternal Witness/Profane Command synergies, which provides a very powerful endgame. There’s so much I want to do with Doran, 60 cards just don’t give enough ground!

If someone talks me out of rocking the Tireless Tribe, there are some stock Doran decklists out there that look pretty good. Here’s one that won a Grand Prix Trial over the weekend:

I’d need to get my hands on some Vindicates. I can’t figure out his gameplan against Dredge?

On a side note… could a Warriors deck make the transition into Extended by adding Fires of Yavimaya to improve hasty consistency and a larger Warrior pool to draw from? We get Viridian Zealot for artifact and enchantment kill. Ogre Marauder’s has been this shy of Constructed play, but giving it haste and a power/toughness boost could push it over the top. Hmm, Zo-Zu the Punisher is a beating on his own, how tasty would he be as a 4/3 with haste? Sosuke, Son of Seshiro gives all your Warriors Deathtouch. And poor Tahngarth, Talruum Hero was completely trumped and eclipsed by Flametongue Kavu, wouldn’t it feel good boosting him up to a 6/5 hasty creature with Vigilance and the ability to tap and kill off smaller creatures?

Say, I just noticed Orcish Artillery is a Warrior – I love Orcish Artillery!

Okay, Smith – you’ve only got a few days to the PTQ; don’t get distracted by all the pretty, shiny deckbuilding possibilities! Then again, Rizzo’s Big Mana Rock deck looks fun as hell…

If anyone has some input on the Doran archetype in Extended, please drop us a line in the forums or email me, and if you’re coming out to the Richmond PTQ, look me up and say hello!

See you next week!


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

As I finished this up, a buddy of mine hit me up with this tantalizing tidbit via email:

I’ve heard rumors that there will be something major on the banned/restricted update on March 1.

Really? Hmm, that certainly strikes me as interesting, considering how “healthy” all the current formats seem to be. When I asked him what format, he indicated… Extended.

So does Wizards drop the hammer on the ubiquitous Tarmogoyf and listen to the howls of pain from the wallets of players the world over? My guess is no – upon reflection, taking down Tarmogoyf seems ludicrous; it’s just a creature that attacks, with no evasion. It is super efficient, but as somebody pointed out in something I read recently, having it be so efficient at two mana isn’t always a benefit in Extended (Deed, Smother, Explosives, Counterbalance, etc). There is a plethora of ways to deal with Tarmogoyf in the format.

Speaking of which… what about Counterbalance? Next Level Blue and other Counterbalance decks certainly present uncomfortable pressure on deck design if it dictates a low mana curve and can lead to some very unfun game states as you’re locked out of playing your game. But one could say Counterbalance actually opens up deck design in Extended by pushing up the mana curve so that things like Indrik Stomphowler start showing up in decks (which of course then leads to Control Freaks just reverting back to a gazillion hard counters like Cheon’s Previous Level Blue from last weekend’s Grand Prix).

But what about Sensei’s Divining Top? The little artifact certainly seems to be ubiquitous, and with all the saclands and shuffle effects out there, it’s definitely impacting the length of game play. I’d hate to see such a great little utility card getting the boot but I could see Wizards doing it in an effort to promote more “fun” gameplay.

Then there’s the question – why ban anything in Extended? Isn’t the format diverse and exciting as is? I’d certainly agree with that notion, with a qualifying “but…”

“But…” comes from the fact that we still have a deck in the format that anyone who is serious about winning a PTQ has got to dedicate 7-8 slots minimum out of their 75 to have a reasonable shot at fighting the deck. That’s more than 15% of your nonland cards dedicated to fighting one particular combo deck, and while you can stretch things so that these cards have utility against other decks (Gaddock Teeg, Engineered Explosives, etc), the format still has this serious constraint.

So my money is that Dredge gets nailed, hard. Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp, and maybe even Dread Return. What do you think?