Kicking Off Extended At Star City

Last weekend kicked off the Extended season, with all eyes peeled on Grand Prix Seattle to glean the latest tech from the pro’s. However, some of us made the trek to Star City in Roanoke, Virginia to jump into Extended feet first, to try out decks first hand in the quest for the coveted Pro Tour slot.

My stalwart Magical companion Kevin and I have been wracking our brains trying to figure out which decks to play. Pro Tour Chicago was kind enough to hand us a preliminary metagame gauntlet that we could run our decks through, so the archetypes to beat looked to be Oath, Necro, Sliver, Forbidian and Pebbles. None of these decks appealed to me, as a player, so I never considered playing any of them. I had to construct something different that could beat these; with so little playtest time available to me, I also had to choose something I was comfortable playing. A creature-based control deck that was all or mostly green seemed to be the perfect fit.

Coming into the new constructed season, the one thing I really wanted to work on was breaking Gaea’s Cradle. Winning States with Blair Witch Green showed me just how powerful the Cradle could be; that sort of massive mana generation could simply win games, either with early Plow Unders, a deadly Masticore sweep, or an early Child of Gaea or Deranged Hermit.

The awesome Crop Rotation served two functions in the deck; one was to get the Cradle to begin with, the other was to play the patented Stupid Crop Rotation Tricks (TM) to effectively double your Cradle mana for a turn by sacrificing a tapped Cradle to Rotate to an untapped Cradle. Extended offered the mighty Emerald Charm that could do effectively the same thing, untapping the Cradle to use again. Its ability to destroy global enchantments at instant speed was just sweet icing on the cake. But having 7-8 ways to untap the Cradle in your deck just had to be broken.

Obviously, a deck abusing Cradle had to play Deranged Hermit. He just turbo-charges the Cradle and often effectively doubles your available mana in a given turn. Extended gives us a boost with more one drop mana critters in Fyndhorn Elves, and also brings the incredible, durable Wall of Roots. I am a huge fan of the Wall of Roots, it gives you a nice mana boost, blocks most critters, and can generate mana on your opponent’s turn, too. This is often important if you need to tap out to cast something big, but need to have mana available to cast Emerald Charm on an Enduring Renewal or Illusions of Grandeur that could show up at any time during your opponent’s turn.

Now, the question is: what do you do with all this mana? Obviously, the first thing you do is load up on 4 Deranged Hermits. But after that, it gets tricky. Masticores were a no-brainer in Type 2, but Extended has less creatures overall, and the creatures it does have tend to be problematic. Slivers, Academy Rectors, other Masticores, all are not easily addressed by a Masticore of your own. I thought about Collective Unconscious, and at one point had three in the deck; they cost six mana, so they can be a mana sink in their own right, and any leftover mana can be used to cast stuff that you draw. Often, the Collective would draw five or more cards, which is just insane. Sometimes you can even”go off” by drawing multiple Collectives, Charms and Rotations, so you keep casting Hermits and critters, untap your Cradle to play another Collective and keep on going, each time getting more creatures and drawing more cards.

But in a field full of counterspells, could I really count on it happening? I worried about that. At some point, I started thinking about adding blue to use Stroke of Genius because it’s an instant and therefore more flexible. Once I started dipping into blue, I naturally started thinking about Cloud of Faeries to untap the Cradle… I then started thinking about Barrin, Master Wizard and infinite Squirrels… but I eventually came to my senses and realized that I was relying on a lot of fragile creatures and that could be dangerous. But I liked blue… what about Tradewind Rider? That gives you some nice control, and works well with all the critters. It was also easy to add Treachery and Trade Routes. Strokes almost made it, but then I worried about Misdirection… at least Collective Unconscious couldn’t be Misdirected to my opponent. Here’s what I ended up with:

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Wall of Roots
4 Tradewind Rider
4 Deranged Hermit
2 Masticore
4 Emerald Charm
3 Crop Rotation
2 Trade Routes
2 Creeping Mold
2 Treachery
3 Collective Unconscious
3 Gaea’s Cradle
3 Treetop Village
4 Tropical Island
1 Dust Bowl
1 Quicksand
3 City of Brass
7 Forest

SB: 3 Null Rod
SB: 3 Sphere of Resistance
SB: 1 Masticore
SB: 2 Squallmonger
SB: 2 Hall of Gemstone
SB: 2 Tranquil Grove
SB: 1 Treachery
SB: 1 Quicksand

I picked the Groves over Domains because Tranquil Domain can be picked out of your hand with a Duress before a combo deck”goes off.” Groves sit there and rock the house, provided the deck doesn’t go off before you’ve got three mana available (another reason Wall of Roots is so good). Hall of Gemstone is a must-counter spell against Countersliver, and is pretty good against Forbidian. The main deck and sideboard Quicksands were tech against Hatred or Ball Lightning, and since I was running Crop Rotation I could get them at instant speed if needed.

I felt comfortable with the deck, but not particularly confident; I made a lot of last minute tweaks and adjustments, even on the way down to the tournament, and for me that never bodes well. Still, I hoped for the best.

Anyway, we meet up at 5am for the four hour drive to Roanoke. Kid has decided to come, and he’s playing Borrowed Sliver. I call it Borrowed because the deck is made from cards borrowed from 3 different players. Sheesh, is that deck filled with dual lands! Also along for the ride is Josh playing Kevin’s weird Counter Squee deck, that uses Intuition to fetch things like Squee, Shard Phoenix and Hammers, and get graveyard recursion going. Half asleep, we roll on up. Luckily Kevin is driving this time.

The drive to Roanoke is an exercise in boredom. Roanoke is out in the sticks of Virginia, and while the city itself is pretty busy, the countryside around it for 100 miles is backwoods. I mean Shacks on the Sides of the Mountains Backwoods. Satellite Dishes next to Ugly-Ass Trailers Backwoods. In retrospect, I should have realized a deck named after Blair Witch would have felt right at home out here.

We chatter about Magic to keep ourselves awake on the drive, and eventually arrive in Roanoke earlier than expected and I finally get to see Star City itself. As a columnist for their website, I’ve naturally been curious about the physical reality of the place, and it’s a nice place. The downstairs tournament area is great, with plenty of room, lots of tables and even a decent bathroom. I’m suitably impressed.

People trickle in as we register our decks, and we eventually get a crowd of sixty or so people. Some folks come up to me at different points in the tournament and congratulate me on my win at States, and that feels pretty good.

I didn’t keep that good of records because I did so poorly in the qualifier, but I’ll do my best to recount what I remember.

Round 1 vs. Chris with Necro

Chris hands me my ass fairly well. I manage to get him down pretty low both games (down to 2 game one and 6 game two), but then a series of Drains and Corrupts sends me packing. Game 2 was particularly humiliating when I had to mulligan to six cards while going first, and my opponent Rituals out a Necro turn 1. That’s card advantage, folks! Chris played his Necrodeck traditionally, by playing out the threats and filling his hand back up to 7 cards; he almost never”overfilled” his hand and discard the chaff like the new style Necro decks do. It seemed to serve him well and he won the match easily.

Matches 0-1

Round 2 vs. David with Green based”Good” Stuff

David was a pleasant person to play against, but I put the quotes around”Good” because David had what I would call questionable cards in his deck. Early Granger Guildmages and River Boas were great, but then I started seeing Man o’ Wars, Impulse, Incinerate and Nettletooth Djinns! Not that these cards are bad, per se (except for the Djinn), but they didn’t seem to really gel as a deck. However, my deck decided to show me what bad was all about and I proceeded to be beaten down with Nettletooths and River Boas. What a revoltin’ development! Two games later I’ve lost the match and have been swept into a pile o’ arse.

Matches 0-2

I sit there in disbelief after being as polite to David as I possibly could in light of how angry I was with my deck. 95% of the rest of the room is still playing their matches. Sigh. But then I make a decision-I drove four hours to play Magic, so I am going to play Magic and have some fun! I start thinking on how I’m going to change the deck for the Grand Prix Trial as I get out some cards and start stocking up my trade book. I focus and try to purge out the anger and frustration. It works! By the beginning of the next round, I’m feeling much better. Without the pressure of trying to qualify, I can just settle down and play the cards.

Round 3 vs. Mr. No-Drop

Ah, Mr. No-Drop! Someone who left the tournament after losing the first two games, neglected to drop from the tournament and proceeded to get matched up the rest of the day. I hate to see how many DCI points he lost. And I was really looking forward to playing a game of Magic! I chuckle at the irony, work on my trade book some more.

Matches 1-2

Whoo-hoo! Chalk one in the win column, baby!

Round 4 vs. Jim with CocoaPebbles

Jim is pleasant to play against, but seems a little nervous and frustrated. When I start seeing Mox Diamonds and Peat Bogs, I know why. He’s playing the combolicious Necro Pebbles engine. I manage to whittle him down to 13 before he goes off. He draws 10 cards, I have no Emerald Charm in hand, things are looking bad. However, he somehow manages to fizzle, not drawing any tutors at all! The next two cards offer nothing better and he gets Necro locked. Ouch! The next game I get out a turn 2 Sphere of Resistance. He looks at it with a little concern, but proceeds to play anyway. After four or five turns I have two Spheres out and a Tranquil Grove. Jim’s turns take a long time, and I know his brain has got to be ready to explode from trying to figure out a way to work the combo. The Spheres really hose the math. At this point, I’m chatting with some guys near by and letting Jim do his thing. I feel pretty confident about the game and end up winning with squirrels or something.

Matches 2-2

Round 5 vs. Josh with Counter Squee

Ah, shucks, it’s Josh, one of the guys I rode down with. Well, neither of us have a chance in hell to make the cut for the final 8, so I don’t pay much attention to the match. At one point early on, we order a pizza, and when it arrives in the middle of our third game, I end up conceding so we can eat and tweak our decks for the Grand Prix Trials. Josh had the game pretty much in hand at that point.

Matches 2-3

After a nutritious meal (hah!), I break down my deck. The first thing I do is purge the offensive non-green cards from the deck. Begone, blue! There’s not a whole lot of time before we need to sign up for the Trials, but I want to try out mono-green control. I’m racking my brains trying to figure out how to make a good Extended version. Obviously, starting with Blair Witch Green is a good choice since it carried the day at States. Extended offers faster mana to power the disruption. As I dig through my green cards I come across an old gem that splits my face into a shit-eatin’ grin. Stunted Growth! All of a sudden, the deck comes together-

4 Llanowar Elves
4 Fyndhorn Elves
4 Wall of Roots
4 Deranged Hermit
2 Masticore
1 Child of Gaea
3 Emerald Charm
3 Crop Rotation
4 Creeping Mold
4 Plow Under
2 Stunted Growth
3 Gaea’s Cradle
1 Dust Bowl
4 Treetop Village
4 Rishadan Port
13 Forest

I can’t remember the exact sideboard, but it had Chokes, Spheres of Resistance, and Null Rods.

Ah! 25 land, Rishadan Ports, six green”stunted” spells. This should be fun! It ends up only being twelve or so people playing, so I figure I have a shot at winning a bye.

We get matched up and I sit there for a while. My opponent still hasn’t shown up. Hm, has the mysterious Mr. No-Drop signed up for the Trials and left? Nope, my opponent was outside, and comes trotting in. I recognize him from States, he was one of the guys who really liked my deck and asked me some advice on building a green deck. We shake hands and begin.

Round 1 vs. Sonny with Countersliver

I draw my opening hand and get no land. WTF?!? 25 land in the deck… there is no justice. When we begin, I expect to see forests popping up on his side but instead it’s Island duals. Argh, the dreaded Slivers!! He gets some early beats in and whittles me down to 8 before a Deranged Hermit brings on a Squirrel army. He attacks, leaving no blockers, and I come in with the Hermit, two elves and 4 squirrels. He drops from 19 to 7 in a hurry. He draws and plays a Swords on the Hermit, but at this point it’s too late, I’ve got the upper hand in life and critters. Ports help disrupt his mana long enough for me to come in for the kill. The next game he gets the fantastic Sliver draw, with Muscles, Winged and Crystalline bringing on the beats. I get buried in a Sliver puppy-pile. The last game I get some great disruption with Plow Unders and Ports, get out a fat nasty and wear out his life total. Whew!

Matches 1-0

Round 2 vs. Scott”Kid” Booth with Countersliver

Ah, another of my companions from Richmond. We proceed to talk good-natured smack, shuffle up and begin. He gets the good Sliver draw, Swords an early elf to stall my mana, and sends in some flying, beefy, untargetable beatings. Ouch! The next match is all mine; I get an early Port to slow him down, with elves to keep my mana base development. I sneak a Sphere of Resistance in to make it even harder for him, and then I start Plowing Under and Stunting Growth. I keep his blue mana tied up and eventually get out a squirrel army and elves to gang him. I can’t remember what happened in the last match other than the fact that I won, but I think he might have been mana boned somehow…

Matches 2-0

Round 3 vs. Tom with Countersliver

I’m getting pretty familiar with Tom, having played him in the Swiss at Regionals last year, in the Swiss at States, and then in the elimination rounds at States. I have to give him credit, he plays different decks each time I see him. Necro at Regionals, Red LD at States, and now he’s with Slivers. The first game goes in typical Sliver fashion, with him getting semi-fast beat down going and he gets me to 6 life. However, I finally start working some disruption through his counters, along with Ports, and finally bust a Masticore on the scene. He’s got a Crystalline out so I can’t kill it, so I just run the beastie at him until he has to block to live. He finally pulls a great maneuver to get rid of it-he Consults for a Duress, casts it and removes the Stunted Growth from my hand so I have nothing in hand (of course, it couldn’t be a land or a critter, could it?). Masticore exits during my upkeep but I draw a finisher shortly thereafter. Game 2 is just brutal as I cast a turn 2 Choke when he has just tapped both Tundras to play a Crystalline. Tom gets that look in his eye that tells me his mind is filling up with choice words. He plays a G/W land that I Creep next turn. He plays a City of Brass, which I tap with a Port during his upkeep. When I cast Stunted Growth, he calmly asks to read the card. Someone standing nearby does a double take and gawks at the card. He says he’s never seen it before. Sheesh, I guess I’m showing my age! Needless to say, things are looking grim for Tom, and I drop a fat critter and win. He shows me the Auras of Silence in his hand that could have taken care of the Chokes if he could have ever had 3 mana. Choke rules!

Matches 3-0

Boy, do I own Sliver decks, or what?

Being three and oh is not a bad place to be with only 5 rounds of swiss. I’m thinking I might be in line for a bye or two after all!

Round 4 vs. Tim with Sligh

Tim and I chat a bit before the match. He congratulates me on my States win, and tells me he enjoys reading my stuff on the Star City. Tim’s a little older than the normal crowd, and has a wife back home. It’s nice to see other geezers out there like me! Tim opens with a Mogg Fanatic and I get that instinctive fear that creeps into anyone who’s been on the receiving end of massive burn. Luckily, he doesn’t get much offense going and it drags into the mid-game where my deck shines. Confidently, I consult my sideboard and make a huge mistake. I board in Masticores and Spheres of Resistance. The ‘cores aren’t bad, but the Spheres… I end up getting an early Port plus Sphere to slow his development, but his turn 1 Mogg Fanatic, joined a little later by a Fireslinger, start to whittle me away while my hand accumulates with spells that cost 5 or 6 mana that I can’t cast under the Sphere. My life goes like this-20, 19, 18, 17, 15, 14, 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, dead. Now, am I good player and learn from my mistake? No, I obviously need to be schooled again, only this time his offense is a little faster under the Sphere and I swiftly die a crispy, burnt up death.

Matches 3-1

Okay, so maybe Spheres of Resistance are bad to bring in against Sligh… I get it now!

Meanwhile, Kid and Tom are matched up in the dreaded Sliver on Sliver matchup, and it drags on forever. There’s yelling and calling for the judge, all in all it doesn’t sound like much fun. I sit down to play a fun match with Pat, this guy who I chatted with a little earlier in the day. We play a couple of hard fought matches, all pretty tight and evenly split, and generally have a blast. Hey, that’s what Magic’s all about, that’s what drew us to the game to begin with.

Then the sliver brawl is over and we get matched up, guess who I have to play?

Round 5 vs. Pat with White Weenie

We laugh and prepare for a fun match, for real this time. Whoever wins will probably get a two round bye at Grand Prix Phili, so there’s a nice little stake involved. Unfortunately for Pat, my deck evidently decided to turn up the heat, and I churned out Plow Unders, Stunts, Masticores… everything the deck was supposed to do to win, it did and I swept the match. In the last match he tried to hold on with two Mothers of Runes, one with 2 Empyrial Armors on it so I couldn’t attack with my Treetop Village anymore for the kill. He had three cards in hand so it was pretty huge, and I was starting to get worried about it getting big enough to get protection from green from the other Mother and come over to kill me. What do I top deck? Stunted Growth, emptying his hand so the Mother is back to being a 1/1! 3/3 trampler comes over to kill. To Pat’s credit he was very polite and seemed to enjoy the game despite some really nasty spells coming out of my deck. I am sure Plow Under and Stunted Growth are no fun to have played against you.

Matches 4-1

So I’m in a pretty solid second place, but I hear that Tim and his opponent are still playing, and if Tim loses I might actually win the whole thing due to tie breakers! So I watch the match and it’s a good one, Sligh versus a Forbidian variant with black for Duress and Lobotomy. It goes to the third match, and Forbidian keeps a counter-light hand with 2 Powder Kegs, and when Tim drops a turn 2 Null Rods, things are looking grim for his opponent. The game lasts a little while, but Tim pulls it off and wins the three byes. Good job Tim, I guess I’ll see you in Philadelphia!

It’s almost midnight and I get my packs and fill out the paperwork to get the byes, and we head on home. Kid and Josh fall asleep about an hour into the trip, and Kevin and I are fighting to stay awake. We somehow miss the exit to 64 east, and keep on 81 for about 30 minutes before I notice something seems wrong. We correct our mistake to the tune of an extra hour on the road, and get back home around 4:30 in the morning. The sun is starting to creep up when I finally crawl into my warm bed to rest my tired eyes. Being up 24 hours straight is pretty tough for an old man.

I’m pretty happy with how the green deck performed, and will try and tweak a version to play for some other qualifiers if it keeps up doing well. Who knows, maybe I’ll take it Phili and earn me some big bucks?

Bennie Smith