It turns out that 18 hours in a car is a lot of time to think and rethink about your deck for any given tournament. This time can be spent productively, developing sideboard plans or tweaking some cards, or unproductively, talking yourself out of the deck due to small interactions that likely won’t come up. Fortunately, the second scenario never was a factor, and upon arriving in Houston, I was on the same deck I had worked on all week.
Gavin Verhey had promised to be on whatever deck I was building, and was in my hotel room the afternoon before the tourney working on sideboard ideas and small tweaks. This happens before basically every tournament and is a nice way to bounce ideas off of someone, but usually only results in small changes and strategy talk.
It was at this point that I was looking for some replacements for Blood Moon in our deck ( a Ur Jace deck similar to Brandon Scheel’s from the tournament) as I was not convinced it was worth the maindeck slots due to the room being mostly resistant to it. In that process though, I had a “House” moment in which I stumbled upon Abyssal Persecutor and before I realized what had happened, 75 cards were listed out on my laptop. I called Gavin over to get some affirmation, and a new project began.
We obviously made quite a few number tweaks, as the list was mostly 4-ofs to start, but the deck pretty much remained as it was listed on the computer. Unfortunately, one of the pitfalls to last minute audibles is that you inevitably miss something, and in this case that something was another mana source, but luckily the deck was powerful enough that we squeaked by for one tournament without it.
I would typically follow the pattern of doing a two part tournament report with changes to the deck being shown in the second article, but seeing as how next week is the final PTQ weekend for Extended, I won’t keep everyone waiting.
Basically, as I noted, the first thing I would do is swap out a 4 drop for a Chrome Mox or basic land. I prefer the Mox, but can’t fault you for a basic Swamp either. I would drop the Sower of Temptation, as it was not very exciting in the maindeck for me at all. Some others suggested cutting Abyssal Persecutor for the Mox, but I don’t think that’s a fair cut, as when you draw multiple Persecutors, the most common way to get rid of one is to Mox it.
If you did go with the basic land over the Mox, you could cut a Persecutor instead of a Sower, but I would still look to cut the Sower in some way if you can. Adding a 3rd Umezawa’s Jitte or 4th Smother both seem to be better options than the flying 2/2. Sower was fine postboard when I had so much removal to force my opponent to use his or her removal on my guys rather than trading creatures, but in games 1 or 2, I am often forced to make some trades which means Sower is an easy target when it does come down.
Speaking of Sower, I would likely change the one of Sower in the sideboard to a Threads of Disloyalty if you decide to keep a similar sideboard plan, which I will go over shortly. Sower and Threads are remarkably similar in here, but since the Sower came in against [card]Dark Depths[/card] decks, I would rather have the speed of Threads in order to more quickly steal a Dark Confidant.
The board plan in general looked to do a few different things, the biggest of which was to cement your strategy against all of the aggro decks. You have a coin flip to slightly favorable matchup there in the maindeck, but especially at a Grand Prix, you can expect a lot of different and unique aggro strategies to be played, which is why the sideboard has such a large dedication to the archetype. Against the majority of aggro decks, the basic board plan is:
This layout makes basically every spell you draw in the matchup total gas, with the weakest cards being things like Dark Confidant, which is saying something. Gatekeeper of Malakir becomes so much better post board as well, since you have a ton of removal to back him up, meaning opponents are more likely to only have one guy in play when you kick him. If you are looking for some slots to be opened up in the sideboard, the Threads or Sower can be cut without sacrificing much in the process. The main matchups that need some addressing are the 1 card combo decks like Hypergenesis or Scapeshift, as although they are not bad, we have little in the board to improve them.
If you could not tell, Dredge was a deck I was willing to forfeit completely, and I would suggest everyone playing this deck does the same this weekend, as its turnout has been so small that playing against it is unlikely. This transitions nicely into the Extirpates though, which look to be Dredge hate, but really aren’t, although I suppose nailing a Dread Return and then getting rid of Bridges gives you a fighting chance there. In reality, the Extirpates are geared towards the only scary thing that Thopter Depths can do against us, and that is an active Thopter Foundry plus Sword of the Meek combo.
We have ways of disrupting the combo before it hits play, but once it has, it is very tough to beat with anything other than Jitte plus Persecutor, and the Jitte gets boarded out for game two. For reference, here is the board plan there as done at the Grand Prix:
On the draw
-1 Spellstutter Sprite
On the play
The reasoning behind the different cards coming out on the play or draw is that Spellstutter Sprite on the draw is only good if you open up on a Mox and land, as otherwise, they are too far ahead of the curve that your Sprites are only good later on, meaning 3 is enough. On the draw instead we leave in an additional Smother to take out Bob, as our Gatekeepers are worse at the job when being on the draw.
Cranial Extraction is not the most exciting way to deal with the Thopter combo, but it is versatile enough against things like Scapeshift, Hive Mind, or even Hypergenesis, that it takes up some board spots and does get the job done against Thopter if you draw it early enough, especially if you have a Mox opener. The Sower or Threads if you make the switch is intended to break Bob parity as well as randomly steal some 20/20s since you have plenty of creatures to block it for a turn. Then, between Gatekeeper, Jace, and Sower, you have outs to the 20/20 post-block.
If you wanted a more specific sideboard card for the Thopter matchup, Damping Matrix is pretty exciting seeing as how your Jittes get taken out. It does turn off the Ninjitsu on your Ninjas, which means your board plan may change a little bit, but Ninja is an okay guy to hardcast, so he is never dead. Unfortunately, outside of random Affinity matchups, Damping Matrix has little utility outside of the Thopter matchup, but as mentioned, it is superb there.
I ended up going 2-1 against Thopter Depths decks on the weekend, only losing a critical game 3 where my decided that 7 lands off the top of my deck was a good way to get my opponent’s mulligan to 5 back into the game, so I would not worry too much about the matchup, and rather just the Thopter Combo itself, since it appears in a bunch of decks these days.
I had a lot of players question Jace in this deck, as the ability to shuffle is basically absent, but that question comes from a tendency to only look at cards in one dimension. In this deck for example, while Jace is not as good at filtering cards, he makes up for it by being able to bounce your Persecutor when you feel like winning. In addition, with so many blockers, the chances of Jace sticking around to go ultimate are fairly high. In fact, I had 2 matches where Jace on ultimate was enough of a threat to warrant a concession from my opponent, both of which were playing aggro decks. As long as your willing to think outside the box a bit and play with Jace differently, he is just as good here as anywhere. For example, if you are willing to go Brainstorm, Scry 1 of your cards to the bottom, then Brainstorm again, as opposed to 3 straight Brainstorms, your Jace is just as good at filtering. Playing rogue decks is not just about the deck itself. It often requires an outside the box mentality of thinking strategically to fully grasp interactions within a shell. I am sure I will write an article on this soon enough, so I won’t bore you, but just remember to be versatile in your strategic mindset.
One fear from most people regarding this deck was the variance on Bob. With 6-7 four mana actual spells, and an additional 4 Ninjas that deal 4 off of Bob, people were worried that we were taking too much damage off of Bob for him to be at his best. While this is a legitimate concern at face value, it ends up not being a big issue. The actual average converted mana cost of the deck lies at 1.6, which is very reasonable. In addition, if we ever get a Jace or Jitte active with Bob in play, his drawback is mitigated. Most importantly though, is our manabase.
Unlike most Extended decks, we only have 2 lands that can ever deal damage to us in a pair of Watery Graves, which still rarely comes up. Because of this, only Bob and Thoughtseize are shooting us for damage, and we can usually manage that pretty well. Ninja allows us to pick Bob up if we ever get into too much trouble and if we are really desperate, a self-aimed Gatekeeper or Smother can sub in for our sneaky blue friend as well.
In general, despite a “higher curve” than typical Extended decks, the mana and curve work out pretty well in actual game play. Adding a 4th Mox should cement this fact as well. The only maindeck thing I could see being changed beyond the Sower for a Mox tradeoff is the removal of 1 Persecutor, but even then, I personally would not do it.
The sideboard is the real area where you need to pick your battles however. With only one week left in the Extended season, anything goes and making the right sideboard call has everything riding on it. As I said, I would steer clear of Dredge for the most part, and instead dedicate any free slots you end up finding toward Hypergenesis and Scapeshift as they are likely to make up 10%-ish each and we have little in the board for those now. Cranial Extraction and Glen Elendra Archmage come in for both situations, but neither of those are exciting against Hypergenesis. The Archmages are also stellar against the slower control decks in the room, so I would look to keep them in if at all possible. Ultimately it is going to be a local metagame call however, so don’t forget that when picking your deck and sideboard. Thanks for reading and best of luck this weekend!