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Careful Consideration – This Format is Juuust Right

 

Extended is like Goldilocks.

I’m not a big fan of smaller constructed formats like Block. On one hand, you get to play with cards that you would not otherwise be able to play with because there are generally stronger effects in larger formats like Standard, but that’s more than offset by the general lack of answers to strong, possibly linear strategies.

For example, Lorwyn block showcased a powerful linear mechanic (tribal), but after a short time it became clear that there was one tribal deck that was more powerful than the others, forcing the format to become so Faerie-centric that if you realistically wanted to win a PTQ, you had to be playing the only tier one deck in the format. You might be able to win with a tier two deck like Kithkin, but you were handicapping yourself by not running out the Bitterblossoms on turn two. And there were no effective answers to the deck. A handful of narrow but powerful answers can keep a format healthy, which is what block formats often lack.

An the other extreme, Vintage, has such powerful cards that the format has gravitated towards a core of cards that do whatever it is they are trying to do extremely well. You get to play the best card draw, the best mana acceleration, the best counterspells, and so on. And that’s fine, but there’s less room for innovation there as well. It’s not likely that you’re going to manufacture an entirely new deck archetype that is going to be tier one for two reasons. One, the format’s been around long enough that people have figured out the holes in the metagame and deckbuilding, and decks are more efficient and better-tuned as a result. Two, because the power level is so high, there’s not a lot of room for taking advantage of hidden synergies that exploit those inefficiencies, which stifles innovation.

I’m not saying Vintage is a bad format. It’s fine, it’s healthy, and has a pretty passionate following. But I find it to be a little too inbred for my tastes as well for the above reasons.

And that brings us to Extended, the happy medium.

Extended is really the perfect format, or as close to it as you’re going to get. You have a huge range of strategies, any of which can be viable and competitive, and are quite powerful. But unlike smaller formats, Extended also comes equipped with the tools to answer each of those powerful strategies, making sure things don’t get out of hand.

Affinity is a very powerful mechanic, allowing you to play free spells while abusing the Modular mechanic with Arcbound Ravager. We saw how degenerate the deck could be when it was in Standard and Block Constructed (even if Disciple had been banned), but in Extended, it’s just another deck. It’s a very good deck, but cards like Kataki, Path to Exile, and Ancient Grudge are all very effective at disrupting Affinity’s strategy. You can go down the list. Storm? There’s Canonist, now Silence, effective hand disruption, and so on. And there are so many powerful mechanics available to you in Extended that it’s certainly reasonable to innovate new uses for them, especially ones that have been forgotten and have fallen off the radar, allowing you to take advantage of holes in the ever-shifting metagame. [Very happy to have gotten the chance to dust off my Astral Slides and Lightning Rifts for one last romp last season. –Riki] It’s a dynamic, interesting format and one I find to be quite skill-intensive.

The next Constructed PTQ format will be Extended, and we have an upcoming Extended Pro Tour (complete with Extended PTQ on Saturday!), in case you’re wondering why there’s all this random Extended talk out of nowhere. Let’s take a look at the Extended format when we left it in April, the last time we had Extended PTQs.

First of all, be aware that Onslaught block will rotate out of the format when Zendikar becomes legal next month. So Pro Tour: Austin will feature an Extended format that runs from Mirrodin block to Zendikar.

Zoo

What it loses: Fetchlands, Sulfuric Vortex
What it gains: Bloodbraid Elf, Lightning Bolt

The biggest change to the format will be the rotation of the fetchlands in Onslaught, leaving people with worse mana. Although I don’t see any way to realistically splash black and blue in the deck just to power up Tribal Flames, the same does not hold true for the three-color mana base for the Naya version. You take more damage off your Ravnica dual lands by just having them come into play untapped, but you still get to attack with Kird Apes and Wild Nacatls that are usually powered up.

Vortex is a loss, but the format evolved to move away from the more burn-heavy version that Adam Prosak played in Grand Prix: Los Angeles to a more creature-based version like the Ranger Zoo one that Bill Stark made popular. The Prosakian version ran four Vortex main as well as cards like Keldon Marauders, whereas Ranger Zoo was moving the Vortices to the side and sometimes cutting Marauder entirely to make room for Ranger of Eos and Woolly Thoctar.

The loss of fetchlands is not insignificant, however. Tarmogoyf is noticeably worse in the new Extended format, as getting a land into the graveyard actually takes some work now, instead of being something you could count on for sure. Naya Zoo decks weren’t playing sorceries so Tarmogoyf was usually a 3/4 (land, instant, creature), but when he’s downgraded to an expensive Kird Ape, he’s suddenly not as exciting. So decks will either have to find a way to put lands in the graveyard (not likely unless they force themselves to play bad cards like Terramorphic Expanse – which if I had to do that just to pump up Tarmogoyf, I would probably set myself on fire), live with the fact that he’s a 2/3, or play sorceries like Molten Rain or a tribal card like Tarfire. I’m not the biggest fan of either of those cards, but Molten Rain tends to be better in the early part of the season when people’s mana bases aren’t optimal.

Another very realistic possibility is that Zendikar, which seems to be land-themed, might have a not-horrible way to get lands to the graveyard, letting Tarmogoyf run free and wild. (There’s also a rumor that Zendikar could have something like enemy-colored fetchlands or something along those lines, but color me skeptical on that one.)

Faeries

LSV wrote an entire article on this deck and sums things up pretty well. One thing I would like to point out (Kha in the comments made this point) – the lack of fetchlands makes Engineered Explosives less reliable for blowing up three-casting cost things like Woolly Thoctar.

Death Cloud/Life from the Loamy Decks

What it loses: Fetchlands, cycling lands, Ravenous Baloth
What it gains: Maelstrom Pulse
Viability: High.

Life from the Loam plus cycling lands is a pretty ridiculous engine, providing insane card advantage. With no cycling lands, Life from the Loam is probably going to sit in the binders for the time being, or will be played fairly (and really, why would you play anything fair in Extended)? Early Death Cloud builds did not play Loam (and played Garruk instead), and those decks were viable, so we’ll probably see the decks revert to that form. The Loam decks evolved to take advantage of the Loam/cycling engine because it was so good (particularly against Faeries), but the older versions should be fine.

Affinity

What it loses: Nothing
What it gains: Lightning Bolt
Viability: High

This is pretty much the same old deck. Play free spells, play Master of Etherium and Arcbound Ravager and maybe a Cranial Plating, and smash noses. Affinity does get better on a couple of fronts:

1. With no fetchlands in the format, it becomes harder for decks to splash for Ancient Grudge.
2. Lightning Bolt allows the Affinity player to have a red answer to Kataki instead of a white answer (Path to Exile). Affinity wants to be playing blue (Master of Etherium, Thoughtcast) and red (some combination of Fatal Frenzy, Atog, and Shrapnel Blast) for sure. Having really only two colors it needs to rely on makes the mana a little better, and they can cut the white entirely if they want to, letting them play green (Ancient Grudge for the mirror) or black (Cranial Plating equipping at instant speed, Thoughtseize).

Mono-Red Burn, AKA “the Lightning Bolt deck”

What it loses: Sulfuric Vortex
What it gains: Lightning Bolt, Ball Lightning
Viability: Medium

People laugh at the burn deck because it just burns people and is a highly linear, non-resilient deck. Losing Sulfuric Vortex makes it tough to deal with any sort of life gain (Jitte, Loxodon Hierarch). They can play Everlasting Torment, but that doesn’t put a clock on the opponent the way Vortex does, and is much worse as a result. However, it does pick up yet another Lightning Bolt (this one being, you know”¦Lightning Bolt).

Ball Lightning is generally not that exciting in aggro decks these days because it comes into play, does its thing, and goes away, and decks have evolved where that strategy is just not viable anymore. Except this deck doesn’t care about that – it’s fine using a card to deal three damage because all the cards in the deck do three damage or more with the exception of Mogg Fanatic.

The disappearance of fetchlands has an interesting effect on this deck. Some decks like Zoo will take more damage off their lands, whereas more stable two-color mana bases will only have four shocklands for the burn decks to take advantage of. We’ll see how greedy people get with their mana, but if people aren’t doing six to themselves each game (which was usually the case in last year’s format), then the addition of another Lightning Bolt will probably not be enough.

Elves

What it loses: Birchlore Ranger, Wirewood Symbiote
What it gains: Elvish Archdruid
Viability: Low

It’s possible that the deck that dominated Pro Tour: Berlin will adjust, but the losses of Symbiote and Birchlore Ranger are pretty big. The deck could adapt to be more like the Standard version, but it would be slower and more inconsistent. It might be able to sneak up on a PTQ field that isn’t ready for it, but this deck goes from “the most powerful deck in the format” to “gimmicky combo deck that can catch people by surprise.” You have better things to do with your time than play Elves.

TEPS

What it loses: Mind’s Desire, Fetchlands, Tendrils of Agony
What it gains: Irrelevant
Viability: Extinct

No Mind’s Desire means no deck.

Astral Slide

What it loses: Astral Slide, cycling lands
What it gains: Irrelevant
Viability: Extinct

No cycling mechanic or Astral Slide means no deck.

Martyr

What it loses: Fetchlands, Decree of Justice, Eternal Dragon
What it gains: Sanguine Bond? Baneslayer Angel?
Viability: Medium

Martyr’s actually much better positioned than it was last year. Martyr lost any matchup where the opponent’s late game was better than Martyr’s, because the deck was guaranteed to get to that late game by virtue of not actually doing anything relevant except not dying for the first dozen or so turns. So when a deck has Riptide Laboratory + Venser, or Life from the Loam + cycling lands + Raven’s Crime, then Martyr would just lose. Since both of those are out, Martyr’s jumped up on the rankings of “best late game in Extended.” Death Cloud + Garruk is still better, as is Mindslaver lock, so if those decks are popular, then Martyr is a poor choice. It’s a metagame deck, but a potentially powerful one. Sulfuric Vortex was another way aggro decks could randomly beat Martyr, and that card is also out of the format as well.

With Eternal Dragon and Decree out of the format, the deck has to find a new way to end games. Neither Sanguine Bond nor Baneslayer Angel fight through countermagic the way the other finishers do, so dipping into black for some sort of hand disruption before going off might be right, but maybe too slow, especially with the mana bases being worse with the lack of fetchlands.

The Unknown

There’s certainly room to break Extended. Cascade is the biggest culprit, and people have already tried to break it with the Hypergenesis combo deck (cascade into Hypergenesis, then the deck puts enormous creatures into play like Hellkite Overlord, Akroma, and Darksteel Colossus). The deck’s not very resilient and I don’t think it’s very good, but I like the idea.

In Time Spiral they printed a cycle of cards that had no converted mana cost but had suspend costs to make them reasonable (Lotus Bloom, Ancestral Visions, Restore Balance, Hypergenesis, Wheel of Fate, Living End). So you can build a deck to cascade into only those spells. If Ardent Plea is essentially casting Balance, how powerful is that deck? Even a deck that can reliably cascade into Ancestral Recall seems pretty strong. And who knows what else people are going to figure out what to cascade into. Playing spells for free is still good. Storm, Affinity, and Dredge (with Narcomoeba, Dread Return, Bridge From Below and friends) are some of the most broken mechanics we’ve seen. Cascade is right along those lines and with a card pool as large and as powerful as Extended’s, that mechanic is begging to be busted.

There are also combo decks to be had, which fill an important role in keeping the metagame balanced. Dragonstorm (powering out Hellkite Overlords or maybe Kokusho) might be the best use [I prefer the Bogardan Hellkite/ Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund build. -Riki], or someone could make the Hypergenesis deck actually good, or some off-the-wall thing using Jon Loucks’s suggestion of using Krark-Clan Ironworks and Open the Vaults will emerge. If you have a linear, powerful strategy, it can be disrupted; but if nobody’s ready for it, then you’re very well-poised, as we saw with Pro Tour: Berlin or even Grand Prix: Los Angeles.

I’m really anticipating the Zendikar spoiler, as some of the rumored cards and mechanics, if true, would have a bigger effect on Extended deckbuilding than most sets. It may be that by the time this goes up, they’ve spoiled enemy-color fetchlands, Counterspell, and reprinted the cycling lands (all of which are rumors I’ve heard), and we have to re-evaluate how we approach the format.

All I know is that I can’t wait to dust off my Ravnica dual lands.

Yours shockingly,
-Zaiem

zaiemb at gmail dot com

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