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Caleb Durward – Pestering Extended

At first glance, I was peeved at how wizards changed extended. I have always loved playing with more sets, because it allows for more fun cards and neat interactions to durdle around with. In practice, however, I had a blast playing in Atlanta. The trade off for fewer sets is that format-restricting combinations, like Thopter-Foundry, Hexmage-Depths, and Fires-Grove, aren’t around, and most games have interactivity and depth. Aggro decks can reasonably play a midrange game, and control decks can live long enough to take advantage of their inevitability.

Meanwhile, the type two decks that stifled their respective formats (Faeries, Jund, Valakut) seem balanced and fair. The power level is relatively even, rogue decks are playable, and all the major archetypes are represented. Extended is, at the moment, one of the most fun formats of all time.

Choosing the deck:

Very early on in my testing cycle I realized I wanted four Volcanic Fallout in whatever deck I played at GP Atlanta, due to its effectiveness against Faeries, Naya, and Mythic. Unfortunately, only a few decks can reasonably fit four of the card in their 75, including mono red, a red control deck, a Counter Burn deck I had brewed, and Pyromancers Ascension. Ascension received a lot of splash enchantment hate due to the presence of Bitterblossom and Prismatic Omen in the format.

I had shipped Pozsgay the Counter Burn deck early on in the season, which he improved by splashing for Creeping Tar Pit and adding a miser’s Pestermite, Terminate, and Time Warp to the maindeck. Meanwhile, my friend Larry Swasey (krazykirby4 on MODO) was busy independently brewing and crushing a daily with the following list:

Other options include: The Pestermite combo (or, as Pozsgay, Lewis Laskin, and Nick Spagnola ran, just Pestermite to buy tempo and throw off the opponent,) more burn, more Jace, Koth of the Hammer, Anathemancer, or some combination of Fulminator Mage, Goblin Ruinblaster, and Tectonic Edge. If you end up running the land destruction plan, Goblin Ruinblaster is the best of the group to maindeck.

While the deck is a blast to play, I found it had too many even matchups across the field. I’m more comfortable predicting the metagame and finding a deck that crushes the majority of my opponents than grinding out a long weekend of close games. Sometimes this leads me astray and I simply have no chance, but more often than not putting faith in my own testing pays off.

Actually, that’s one of the most important magic lessons I’ve ever learned. If I was willing to blindly follow the advice of someone else over the results of my own testing, then I probably wouldn’t travel to magic tournaments. After all, it is through trial and error that we improve our game, and if we aren’t trying to improve our game then we probably don’t deserve to lift that trophy, and if that’s the case then why travel? This isn’t to say that listening to others isn’t crucial to success, but trusting yourself should be your first priority.

Another deck I considered was mono red:

Two weeks before Atlanta, this was my plan A. Koth had been testing surprisingly well, and it moved from the sideboard to a one of in the maindeck to three. The bad matchup was Valakut, and I was actually winning most of my control matchups. Between Koth, twelve giant flyers, and Boggart Ram-Gang, I wasn’t afraid of Wall of Omens. In fact, the only time the hate became a problem was when I faced multiple Kitchen Finks out of Jund, making it very difficult to race.

I found the power level slightly higher than the counter burn deck, but still wasn’t thrilled with my deck choice. I had several groups of friends testing the deck. One 6-2‘d both Roanoke PTQs, losing to Soul Sisters once in both events, and Phillip Li day two’d Atlanta with it. Overall, not a bad pick for a PTQ.

Cue to the weekend before Atlanta, where Jed Dolbeer lists me the winner of a Seattle PTQ. I didn’t change a card in the maindeck, but cut a third Ajani Vengeant and the fourth Splinter Twin from the board for a fourth Wall of Denial and Path to Exile, as I assumed Jund would be very popular:

I was happy to find a fun, highly interactive deck that played to my strengths. Historically, I’ve shied away from control decks because I’ve wanted to avoid control mirrors and because the archetype typically has difficulty pressuring the opponent.

The exception has been in vintage, where all the control decks have combo finishes. Pestermite and Splinter Twin might not be on the same level as Time Vault and Voltaic Key, but they close much faster and more definite than the other options, like manlands, Jace, and Wurmcoil Engine. The combo looks fragile in a format full of Volcanic Fallout, Qasali Pridemage, and Disfigure, but in actuality gives your opponents a sort of ultimatum. When are they going to tap low to produce a threat? Anything they play before turn three can be answered by Fallout, Wall of Omens, Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and so on. Casting an end of turn Pestermite makes your opponent decide whether to let you tap a crucial mana and hope to not die to Splinter Twin, or to spend mana answering the Faerie but giving me an opening to play Jace.

Pestermite has plenty of other utility, too, such as Time Walking the opponent off a crucial mana or Wooly Thoctar attack, pressuring opposing planeswalkers, and beating face alongside manlands to potentially burn the opponent out.

Splinter Twin’s utility is much more limited. In Atlanta, I won two games against Faeries in which I used up all of the opposing disruption in Jace fights and then used Splinter Twin enchanting Wall of Omens to break parity and win. Against control, I went for the mini combo twice, but the wall never lived long enough to take control of the game. On a subtle level, there were a few times where the opponent saw Splinter Twin in my hand off of a Thoughtseize or Vendillion Clique, and he was forced to take it over business because the threat of instantly winning was too much.

One of the mistakes people make when considering the combo is to misclassify the role the deck is trying to play.

“Where are the Preordains, the Ponders, and the fourth Splinter Twin?” they ask.
“In a combo deck, where they belong,” I reply.

The card slots are incredibly tight, and I was glad I had time to test the deck extensively before considering any of the card choices. Each slot performs a vital role in how the deck plays out, and the potential to damage how the deck functions is high. For example, I used to board out Wall of Omens in the control mirror, but without the cantrip effect, as well as the option of Path to Exiling my own wall, I was missing land drops and falling behind at critical moments. Some players question the lack of a fourth Cryptic Command, but the card is definitely one of the worst in the deck, and drawing one per game is ideal.

When discussing the deck with Tom “The Boss” Ross, he brought up several issues he had with the deck. The first was that the deck lacked three drops, but I feel that the bulk of early drops, like Mana Leak, Lightning Bolt, Wall of Omens, and Path to Exile, are generally fine plays on turn three alongside Pestermite and Volcanic Fallout.

He also brought up that the white spells were splashed, but were early game spells. Typically, this is a nonbo, but in this deck it works fine as the white producing lands (Celestial Colonnade and Seachrome Coast) are best played early. Also, the manland plays a vital role in the deck, so claiming the splash is only for the early game is misleading. Colonnade attacks, defends, and draws removal that would otherwise threaten the combo. The card helps disguise the deck as a control deck, and puts pressure on faeries post-Fallout.

Grand Prix Atlanta:

Rather than give an overview of the tournament, I’m going to lay out the deck’s role in the metagame, integrate a short synopsis of what I played against, and give some tips on sideboarding.

Faeries 3-1
UW Control 2-0
WW 2-0
4cc 1-0
Naya 1-0
Mirror 0-0-1 (I chose to draw after losing game one because my opponent played Tectonic Edge, I was running Spell Pierce, and since neither of us had discard whoever made the most consistent land drops was probably going to win. I won game two but didn’t have time to finish game three.)
Jund 0-1
RG Scapeshift 0-1

I finished in 36th place, missing top 32 on breakers but still cashing. Overall, my results against the field are fair, though I feel like I played above-average against my Jund and Faerie losses, and durdled around uselessly in my control mirrors, which my deck bailed me out of.

Faeries: The matchup is incredibly skill intensive. I ground countless games against multiple faerie opponents before the tournament and, while I would start the testing crushing, the games would slowly shift and at the end the faerie opponent would be winning. Such is the advantage of a rogue deck. Knowing when to switch modes from combo to control to, yes, even aggro is vital to success. My loss in the swiss was to a tight player with superior draws. Back to back Mistbind Clique are close to unbeatable for any deck, and Pestermite Control is no exception.

Sideboarding: The only constant against faeries is that the four Spell Pierces should be brought in, as the card is absolutely backbreaking when it wins a Cryptic Command war or protects a Volcanic Fallout from a crucial Thoughtseize. Since the deck runs four Fallout, Wispmare is more important as a 1/3 flyer than as a Bitterblossom destroyer, and sometimes I don’t even bring them in. The combo is better on the play than the draw, and can be left in if the opponent didn’t see it game one, or if you need to win game three in five minutes (this actually happened.) Shaving one of each combo piece is acceptable, as is cutting Ajani Vengeant. If I’m up a game, I like to bring in one or two Wall of Denial on the draw to make the deck more resilient to aggressive starts from the opponent. If you run this plan, cutting up to two Wall of Omens is fine because the cantrip is less important on the draw. If you’re on the play and leave in the four Walls, then bringing in the fourth Path to Exile, perhaps shaving Lightning Bolt, is a fine move.

Naya: This is one of the major reasons to play the deck. All of Pestermite’s maindeck disruption is absurd against them, and their plan of playing one or two threats a turn at sorcery speed doesn’t play out very well for them. Nearly all of your cards that don’t answer their creatures directly do so in some fashion, like Pestermite or Lightning Bolt Time Walking a Vengevine. Qasali Pridemage and Cunning Sparkmage are both vulnerable to Fallout, so the combo or the Wurmcoil Engine are consistently game-ending.

-4 Pestermite, -3 Splinter Twin
+4 Wall of Denial, +2 Wurmcoil Engine, +1 Path to Exile

Post board, the walls interact with the sweepers favorably, and I have yet to drop a full match to naya.

Jund: Game one is terrible, something like thirty percent to win. Game two, however, is wonderful, and the deck has the tools to flip the numbers around. Cantripping a Wall of Omens into a Wall of Denial is backbreaking, and cutting the dead cards (Volcanic Fallout) goes a long way to improving the match. I would much rather be the deck that’s winning games two and three than the deck that’s winning game one.

Sideboarding: I tend to bring out Fallouts, though leaving two in on the play to catch Fauna Shaman or a terrible Putrid Leech pump isn’t bad, and either shave the combo or cut it entirely. Pestermites without the Splinter Twins are still good for buying a turn against Raging Ravine or Demigod of Revenge. The walls, Wurmcoil Engines, and extra Path come in. Sometimes the second Ajani Vengeant too, if I’m on the play. I represented Spell Pierce against the Jund player I lost to, and he played around it. I actually had a couple of Walls to buy me infinite time in game two, but my Jaces one through three bricked, with a shuffle effect in between them, my game-stabilizing Wurmcoil Engine was Deglamored, and I was junded.

It’s possible that, now that the list is out, cutting the sideboard Wurmcoil Engine for Baneslayer Angel, which are also sweet against faeries, might be a good idea.

Control: I like the control matchup, because you can pretend that their threats are relevant (Wurmcoil Engine? Sun Titan? Cruel Ultimatum?) before forcing through the Pestermite combo. I had a game where I blew a lot of cards resolving and then durdling with Jace. He Cruel Ultimatumed me, but I was able to untap with the Pestermite Combo, and all he had was an Esper Charm targeting Splinter Twin in response to my activation. My last card in hand was a second Pestermite, which untapped the original to go off anyway. Overall, I’d say that against both UW and 4cc Pestermite is advantaged because it has better threats and better tools. Tectonic Edge is a card out of UW, but Path to Exile insant-speed Rampant Growthing for a white is a fantastic countermeasure. The scary card out of 4cc is Esper Charm, because, when chained together, it allows them to bury you under card advantage without resolving Jace. While patience is key in either matchup, the inevitability against 4cc is less definite.

Sideboarding: Again, Spell Pierce is an absolute house. The card performs better than Force of Will would, here. The opponent is usually looking for ways to cantrip their Cryptic Commands, and holding Mana Leak to help resolve their own threats looks better when you slam down a Jace with only a blue open. Meanwhile, if they do leak, then Spell Pierce prevents them from running out a Planeswalker of their own. Ajani Vengeant does double duty by protecting itself against manlands while cramping the opponent’s tempo. Pulling four Volcanic Fallouts and the Wurmcoil Engine for the second Ajani and the set of Spell Pierces makes the post board games feel very unfair.

Blue Valakut: The matchup involves a lot of durdling around. Their weak spot is their manabase, so tapping a critical land with Pestermite can often swing games. Keep in mind that they have inevitability, so whatever plan you form should pressure them early if you hope to win. Overall, skill is important, and the games feel disadvantaged but winnable.

-4 Volcanic Fallout, -1 Wurmcoil Engine, -4 Lightning Bolt
+4 Spell Pierce, +1 Ajani Vengeant, +3 Wispmare, +1 Path to Exile (hitting manlands and your own Wall of Omens)

RG Valakut: The absolute worst matchup. I haven’t figured out a winning game two plan, but it might involve some numbers of Vendilion Clique, Flashfreeze, Spreading Seas, Tectonic Edge, and maybe a miser’s Consign to Dream.

Sideboarding: See Blue Valakut, but leaving in three Lightning Bolt for Vexing Shusher and pulling two Path to Exile and a Wall of Omens.

If you have a knack for knowing when to pressure the opponent and when to be patient, this deck will prove a fine PTQ choice. Most games have a line that wins, and the key to doing well with the deck is being able to find it. I was happy with it in Atlanta and, had a couple of close games gone my way, there could have been some Pestermites in the top eight. I might reconsider the Wurmcoil Engines and Wispmares in the sideboard for cards that’re more effective against Deglamor and Valakut, respectably.

Thanks to everyone who came up to shake my hand and compliment my articles. Appreciation goes a long way towards making it all worth it.

A new set has been spoiled! Join me next week as I get back to legacy with an article that’s part rant, part brew, and part interview.

-Caleb Durward

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