Careful Consideration – Attacking Extended Decks


A few months ago I wrote an article entitled “Finding Holes in Standard,” which became a personal benchmark for my understanding of a format. If I can write that article for a given format, it means I understand the format fairly well. Unfortunately, Extended is much more complex as a format than that Standard environment was.

For one, you could often shut down a tier one or two Standard deck with a more linear, narrow approach. But with the large card pool in Extended, as we near the end of the format, the decks are much more resilient, and you need to be able to execute a combination of strategies to win. With few exceptions, disruptive strategies need to be backed by a clock, and even disruptive strategies sometimes take two or more approaches, especially against decks with multiple ways of winning (most notably Dark Depths/Thopter).


Decks that beat Zoo usually do some combination of the following things:

Deal with creatures efficiently. The burn in Extended isn’t as impressive as the creature quality. Why play Lava Spike when you can Lava Spike them each turn with Wild Nacatl? If you look at Legacy Zoo lists, you’ll see that most of the creatures are also legal in Extended (and a lot of them are legal in Standard right now, too). Creatures are at an all-time high, so a deck that can deal with them in an efficient manner really limits what Zoo can do. Wrath of God and Living End backed with some other plan to put pressure on the Zoo player post-Wrath are the best solutions here. Engineered Explosives has fallen out of favor, since Zoo has moved away from casting mostly one-drops. Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows is a variant of this idea; though it’s not super efficient, it’s reusable and when you combine it with some other disruption/clock, it’s pretty devastating.

Mana disruption, particularly against Zoo decks playing Tribal Flames and Bant Charm. Blood Moon is the main tool against those decks, though recurring Fulminator Mages in Living End decks can also do the trick. Those decks have only two basics most of the time (Forest, Plains), so they don’t have a lot of room to work with when operating under a Blood Moon. Some Zoo decks play their own Blood Moons, and are much more resilient to this type of strategy. For the mother of all mana disruption spells, the Boggemes Zoo decks play Boom//Bust in addition to Blood Moon. Ouch.

Lifegain. Not really a huge factor with the Martyr of Sands decks dying out, but throw enough Kitchen Finks and Loxodon Hierarchs at the problem and Zoo will have a rough time of things.

Goldfish faster. This is the classic aggro-versus-combo matchup. The combo decks can often goldfish a turn faster. Zoo decks have been resilient to this all-out strategy by virtue of playing disruptive cards like Meddling Mage and Negate out of the board, but what if your deck doesn’t care about those cards, like Dredge? Or what if it’s game one? Mono-Red Burn can also beat Zoo by goldfishing faster, although the Zoo players have caught on how to play that matchup by putting their lands into play tapped and fetching basics to conserve their life total.

Play bigger creatures. The way to beat a smaller Zoo deck is to “go big.” Play Woolly Thoctars, Doran the Siege Towers, Baneslayer Angels, or some combination of the above, and Zoo should have a rough time. Granted, these slower decks will have a hard time beating other decks in the field, but if your field is largely Zoo, you might want to think about getting bigger.

Dark Depths

Decks that beat Dark Depths/Thopter usually do some combination of the following things (and I do mean a combination – you have to effectively fight both combos):

Have ways to kill/bounce the 20/20. If you can’t, you’re doing something wrong. The Dark Depths deck can simply power out a 20/20 and race the Burn deck, and they have no recourse. This plan is much sketchier against Zoo, however, since they play Path to Exile and now Bant Charm as well.

Mana disruption. Stone Rain won’t cut it, but Blood Moon and Ghost Quarter will – you need a way to kill the Dark Depths on their turn, or proactively blank it with Blood Moon.

Search disruption. Cards like Aven Mindcensor and Shadow of Doubt work here; it slows them down, since they can’t effectively Muddle the Mixture for pieces they need for either combo, provided you’re doing something else.

Graveyard hate. Leyline of the Void and Extirpate are the best here. Tormod’s Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, and Bojuka Bog will only nab a lazy player, as it’s very easy to play around those cards. Extirpate can be played around a little by having a Sword of the Meek in play when they try to go off with a second Sword, but that takes a lot longer to set up.

Artifact destruction. Ancient Grudge is pretty solid against the Thopter Foundry side of things, since it eats two cards (either two Thopter Foundries, or Thopter Foundry and a Muddle the Mixture to protect the second Thopter Foundry). Bant Charm is the most versatile of the artifact destruction cards (since it also kills the 20/20).


Decks that beat Faeries usually do some combination of the following things:

Have a fast clock. Playing turn one Steppe Lynx into turn two Wild Nacatl into turn three Kird Ape and Tribal Flames (or some other similar combination of one drops) is going to put a lot of pressure on the Faeries player, and having so many threats so quickly will diminish their life total pretty fast. It’s hard for them to win from that point unless they can get an Umezawa’s Jitte going, and that’s not the easiest thing for them to do.

Hand disruption. You can be proactive by Thoughtseizing their Bitterblossom that they were planning on playing on turn two, or you can use Thoughtseize to protect whatever you want to resolve by forcing a counter out of their hand.

Mana denial. Blood Moon is merely okay, but a land destruction deck or a way to recur Fulminator Mage can keep them off of the mana they need to be effective, although I don’t see any good dedicated land destruction decks.

Ways to deal with a mass number of X/1s (Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows; Night of Souls’ Betrayal). Since all of the cards in Faeries have one toughness except for Mistbind Clique and Mutavault, blanking their Spellstutter Sprites, Vendilion Cliques, and Bitterblossom tokens turns Faeries into a pretty mediocre deck. Night of Souls’ Betrayal is much less reliable, since it does have to resolve in the first place, and has to do so at sorcery speed – and even then, they can end step Cryptic Command it, then Mistbind Clique you during your next upkeep, and beat down with a 3/3 Clique (assuming the Night even resolves the next turn you get to untap).

Play instant speed threats. Faeries preys on decks that do everything at sorcery speed, but if you can do something instantly that they care about and have to counter, then you can disrupt their plan. Playing an end step Violent Outburst to cascade into either Hypergenesis or Living End, then untapping and playing another cascade spell into the combo card you need is a way to play around their countermagic.

Play uncounterable spells like Volcanic Fallout and Vexing Shusher (the latter strategy being used to protect the cascade combo decks, although I’m not a fan of this particular strategy, and it seems to have fallen out of favor since the beginning of the season).

Combo (U/G/R) Scapeshift

Decks that beat Combo Scapeshift usually do some combination of the following things:

Deck disruption. Cards like Cranial Extraction and Thought Hemorrhage take away their main win condition. Some decks play alternative win conditions like Oona, Queen of the Fae, Hunting Wilds, or Akroma, Angel of Fury – but those are secondary strategies and aren’t as potent as an instant kill. If you want to make sure your disruption spell resolves, a forgotten card is Bitter Ordeal (usually taking out their Valakuts instead of Scapeshift), which you can get multiple copies of by sandbagging saclands until the turn you play it.

Mana disruption, mostly Blood Moon. Playing a Blood Moon and protecting it also shuts off their combo, as Valakut has no abilities (although they do have Mountains for days if Valakut did!), forcing them to either deal with the Blood Moon or find some other way to win. Playing a dedicated land destruction strategy is pretty poor against a deck that plays Sakura Tribe-Elder, Wood Elves, and Search for Tomorrow, but Boom//Bust is another story entirely.

Search disruption like Shadow of Doubt or Aven Mindcensor.

Heavy countermagic/counterspell disruption. They don’t have any Vexing Shushers or other ways to force through Scapeshift (most lists I’ve seen have dropped the Boseijus that were popular at the start of the season), so if you can win a counterwar with them, they’ll have a hard time resolving their namesake spell. Two cards come to mind when I talk about counterspell disruption: Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, and Ethersworn Canonist. Having a Canonist in play means your counterspell will resolve, although it is fairly fragile, as it dies to Firespout. Teferi also means your counterspells will resolve and isn’t vulnerable to the mass removal that Scapeshift plays (namely Firespout and occasionally Volcanic Fallout).

Hand disruption. Destroying their hand isn’t the most amazing thing ever, since they can topdeck the namesake card they need and win, but if you keep them from going off and/or keep them from disrupting your plan, then hand disruption makes for a fine secondary strategy. At some point in the season, decks were bringing in both Thoughtseize and Extirpate to mise the win by Extirpating Scapeshift, although that plan seems pretty sketchy.


Decks that beat Elves usually do some combination of the following things:

Keep them off a critical mass of creatures. Playing lots of spot removal spells like Lightning Bolt, Bant Charm, Deathmark, and Smother can slow them down enough to let you apply whatever pressure you have. An active Umezawa’s Jitte does the same thing here. Or mass removal works as well – Firespout, Damnation, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, Living End, Volcanic Fallout all work well to beat Elves, although be careful with the sorcery speed answers, as they can sandbag a bunch of elves and then explode and go off on their turn when you’re tapped out.

Spell disruption. By this I mean cards like Ethersworn Canonist and Meddling Mage, as well as Rule of Law (though nobody’s playing that at the moment). Canonist is vulnerable to Viridian Shaman, but turn two Meddling Mage naming Heritage Druid is quite effective. If you can protect your Canonist from Viridian Shaman, you can buy a lot of time and it will allow you to set up whatever it is you’re trying to do to get to the endgame.

Hand disruption. Keeping the key cards out of their hand like Glimpse of Nature is pretty key, and if you do have some sort of dedicated hand disruption deck (like some sort of Smallpox/The Rack deck – not recommended), they shouldn’t have enough cards to explode and kill you.

Goldfish faster. They’re fast; a turn three 20/20 is even faster.


Decks that beat Hypergenesis usually do some combination of the following things:

Spell disruption. Meddling Mage, Ethersworn Canonist, Rule of Law. Hypergenesis has Oblivion Ring and sometimes Firespout to deal with the disruptive spells, but they have to draw it, and if you can protect it with some sort of countermagic, you’re good.

Hand disruption. They have a relatively small number of spells that they can use to go off, and if you turn one Thoughtseize away the Violent Outburst they were planning on casting into Hypergenesis, you can buy time to execute your strategy.

Blood Moon. Blood Moon makes it really hard for them to cast their spells, since they run almost no basics (Saito ran one Forest, but has no fetchlands or ways to get it other than naturally drawing into it).

Countermagic. If you counter all each Hypergenesis they cast, they have to resort to powering out creatures the hard way by hardcasting them. They can certainly win by hardcasting Bogardan Hellkite, but the deck becomes so much worse when that’s their plan.

Goldfish faster.

Living End

Decks that beat Living End usually do some combination of the following things:

Graveyard hate. Unlike the Thopter/Sword combo, Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus work well here, and Leyline of the Void is still Leyline of the Void. Living End does play Maelstrom Pulse, so don’t think that running out three turn zero Leylines is the end of the game, but it’s going to slow them down.

Hand disruption. Same as Hypergenesis.

Countermagic, for the same reasons (and same drawbacks) as Hypergenesis. Sometimes Living End has to pretend it’s a bad sealed deck and they just start hardcasting Jungle Weaver. And if your match suddenly turns into an Extended deck versus a sealed deck, that’s a situation you’d take most of the time.

Goldfish faster. Make a 20/20 and deal with their Living End if they have to use it as a Wrath effect.

Let me know in the comments if I missed anything. It seems like Faeries is on a resurgence in Japan right now, so we’ll see if that carries over to the PTQs or Grand Prix Houston (which I will be attending – so say hello if you see me!) As for the PTQs, the Magic Online PTQs are back in full force and I expect to play in all of them (or until I qualify).

Yours grindingly,
zaiemb at gmail dot com
zbeg on Twitter
zbeg on Magic Online

18 thoughts on “Careful Consideration – Attacking Extended Decks”

  1. lol, j/k, however, very informative article, anyone looking to get into extended, or those looking to improve just their general knowledge about different formats, this is a great article to read and i recommend it to all, nice job!

  2. Faeries is pretty horrid right now, considering how good the Zoo decks are.

    Anyway, I think the Boggemes Zoo deck is by far the best deck in the format. 4 mana 3/2 Haste, Armageddon is easily the most unfair thing you can be doing in the format right now.

  3. ^^ right cuz thats better than a turn 2 or 3 indestructible 20/20…path or die sucker oh whats that? it also plays thoughtseize and duress to protect the combo? oh man…seems pretty unfair

  4. Crovax, Ascendant Hero is another powerful X/1 hoser that may deserve mention.

    Good article, pretty simplistic points but useful to think about.

  5. @ Zaiem, do you make a spread sheet with these analysis.
    Seems to me that the whole point is to find common cards or strategies that are good against all the decks, or a combination of that cards that give you the best out to the decks you expect to face. Or I guess best case scenario would be finding a deck/strategy that beat all the common decks.

    Something Like
    Deck A Deck B Deck C Deck D
    Card A 1 5 3 3
    Card B 2 3 5 5
    Card C 4 1 2 5

    As a reader I could probably make up something like the sheet above useing your article but I think some kind of summary would be a nice way to end this kind of article.

  6. I think you hit just about everything. Under “ways to bounce/kill a 20/20” I’d have probably mentioned “Repeal” which just turns into Ancestral Repeal against DDT. I think I’ve yet to lose a game in either testing or tournament where I’ve gotten to target a Marit Lage with Repeal.

    The Boggemes zoo deck is pretty scary. I haven’t played at all against it (haven’t tested the format in a few weeks, and it’s a newer deck), but as long as the matchup against it isn’t abysmal (it may well be), Faeries should still be a good choice. Looking over the list, it seems manageable, but tough (pretty much like most non-“big zoo” matches with zoo variants). I think Boom is actually almost scarier than Bust here. I’m going to go assemble and test this.

    I’m curious, though… there has to be something better to do than play “Temporal Isolation”… that seems horrible. Anyone have insight into exactly why that card isn’t trash? I guess it has Flash and doesn’t ramp mana. Is that pretty much why it gets the nod for the zoo list?

  7. One of the coolest solutions I’ve seen was using Favor of the Mighty. A deck ended up taking 7th place with it using Fae and Ninjas. With Hexmage out of the equation, the 20/20 Marit Lage token is a 0 CMC creature, meaning even a Zephyr Sprite can block the token and survive. The deck is located here: http://www.deckcheck.net/deck.php?id=32911

    I’d also say a shroud creature (Wall of Denial or Calcite Snapper for example) + Worship is a viable solution. Most decks pack little enchantment hate (most Zoo I’ve seen only have Qasali Pridemage). In addition, you can pack Negates or other counters for their bounce spell.

  8. Re: above inquiry…

    I guess Temporal Isolation is a lot less bad now that combat damage no longer uses the stack. As as long as you leave up mana to replay it post bounce-spell (which was still fine under old rules), it is a pretty effective Marit Lage answer (mostly since DDT only has Muddle the Mixture as a counter). It still feels like there has to be something better, but it doesn’t seem so awful now.

  9. Temporal Isolation dodges Chalice at 1 if they have that and more importantly Muddle, and it also deals with the second Marit Lage so it effectively deals with the whole combo (3 Marit Lages seems unlikely). It’s pretty sweet but probably not as powerful in the abstract as Path, and can be beaten with bounce if the Zoo player taps out (for the benefit of people who inevitably won’t understand, it has Flash). Still better against specifically Marit Lage.

    Also, what does damage stacking have to do with it? I am genuinely confused.

  10. previously, when combat damage used the stack, you could run your temporal isolation’d guy into your opponent (because it had shadow, it was often unbloackable), and then sacrifice/kill/bounce your guy with damage on the stack. The “prevent” from the temporal isolation wouldn’t happen because it was no longer in play (nor was the source of the damage). Now, with damage not using the stack, you have to bounce/destroy the Temporal Isolation. If you bounce it, it can be replayed much as it was the first time, whereas if damage still used the stack, you could just bounce your own Marit Lage and avoid this problem. Thus, Temporal Isolation is actually reasonable now, as opposed to fairly awful as it would have been under the old rules.

  11. I think you should also write sth aobout Terry Soh and his very innovative sideplan In his Tooth deck during invitationals. He was playing rather standard version of monoG Toothtron list but after sideboard, when his opponent put in all the cranials landdestruction and tooth hate he had been removing all t/nails and put the whole sideboard of 10 or 15 cards full of trollascetics molder slugs and Iwamoris.
    This was very innovative and made a big impact on t2 , because after that event ,many guys stay with creature hate in theirs deck but you even didnt have to change your plans.

  12. Yeah, the temporal isolation comments pushed me over the edge. I can no longer sit by idly and never comment.

    @Maniacal and Stevo

    Bogemmes zoo combines an aggressive, proactive zoo strategy with mana disruption, finding success in interactions like bloodbraid elf/bust and buying time with, if not altogether locking out opponents via mana screw. Half of the time this is achieved via blood moon, and if it maindecked path like every other zoo build the basic land it gives the opposing player weakens this strategy. A lot. Temporal isolation still deals with marit lage at instant speed, which along with not being dead in zoo matchups is all that slot has to do. Within the deck’s color constraints, it’s the cheapest instant-speed option. It’s better off the cascade and often even hard cast, because you’re essentially paying an additional 1 to deny the basic fetching.

  13. You say lots of useful things about the elf deck, then you throw it all away with the last sentence. Obviously, Jitte and mage are the best ways to win… but a turn 3 20/20 is slower or the same clock as elves. If you make it turn two, swing on turn three, that’s usually faster, but making a 20/20 turn 3 is frequently a good way to lose, in my experience.

  14. A friendly Face

    I thought I would mention a card that wasn’t mentioned that I seem to use quite a lot. That card would be Chalice of The Void. Chalice is probably one of the most disruptive cards there is right now besides, in my opinion, Bloodmoon. All in Red can consistently toss out a turn one Blood Moon shutting down moat decks for a while. But back to the original card I mentioned. Chalice of the Void is very easily cast for zero on turn 1 shutting down decks like Hypergensis and Living End and even Hive Mind decks. If your running big mana producing decks (Elves though not recommended in this deck, and All in Red) you can pretty easily chalice for 2 to shut out hexmage. Another card I use a lot in extended and standard is Pithing Needle which easily shut down Thopter and Dark Depth combos on turn one.

  15. A friendly Face

    edit to previous I meant most decks on the blood moon bit I’m just editing cause i don’t feel like getting alot of responses stating moat instent extended legal ;p;

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