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Chasing Victory: Sliding into First

As the Extended PTQ season finally winds down, it has become clear to me what the best deck to play is: Astral Slide.

Obviously, I started with Faeries and attempting to adapt it to the new, faster metagame full of Affinity and Naya Zoo. Tarmogoyf was the first step, as it was great against both of those decks as a blocker and a fast clock, but Faeries still needed some spot removal to compete. Path to Exile was probably the best one, as it kills all of Zoo’s and Affinity’s big threats. Smother is a possibility, but I wasn’t interested in any black sideboard cards, whereas white cards like Kataki, War’s Wage and Circle of Protection: Red were both insane. Most blue mirrors didn’t have Vedalken Shackles anymore, so you didn’t really need to worry about those either.

The list I eventually settled on ended up having a lot of green and white elements, and I wasn’t very happy with the Faerie package. I started looking at other options. Gabe Walls and Cedric Philips were pretty high on Astral Slide since Grand Prix LA, but after TEPS won the tournament, Slide didn’t seem very good at that time. TEPS is basically a near unwinnable matchup, and it could only get more popular post GP.

Now that the jig is up, and it’s become apparent that TEPS was basically Swans v2, where it’s a pretty bad deck that LSV manages to win with, it has started to die down a bit (Hey now! – LSV). Two weeks after TEPS was one of the most popular decks at a local PTQ, it became one of the smallest decks in the field.

Despite Cedric and Gabe insisting that Slide was great the entire time, Astral Slide is actually a very good deck now, as opposed to one of the worst decks you could play a couple weeks ago. So far, Gabe Walls went 0-3 in his last three rounds at GP LA to miss Top Eight, Cedric Phillips lost in the finals of the PTQ the next day, and both Sean Mangner and Max McCall, people who I collaborate with on a regular basis, have made PTQ Top Eights. The deck is for real.

Here’s the list I would play:

Slide

I started with what I thought would be a great list, but as I tested more and more, I eventually came to a lot of the same conclusions Osyp did when he won his PTQ. Path is better than Helix, especially now in a world of Tarmogoyf, Ajani is great against other Loam decks, and three of each of the enchantments is probably right.

You don’t really want to draw multiples of each, as you can’t rely on those to win you the game against decks like Naya Zoo. Slide is alright against them, but you really can’t just have your first play be a turn three Slide and expect to win, like you could in old Standard. Extended is much too fast and you need to be interacting with things like Path and Finks before you can even think of wasting your turn playing a Slide.

The format is also light on enchantment removal, especially game one, so drawing multiple Slides isn’t usually a good thing. The blue decks usually just have Mana Leak for early counterspells, so you can often play around that and easily resolve it as well.

Osyp only played three Loams, which I believe is criminal. You absolutely need to find one in most of your matchups, and I think at the very least, the fourth Loam is strictly better than the eleventh cycling land that Osyp had.

Some people would point out Cedric’s recent use of Seismic Assault instead of Lightning Rift, but I think Assault is basically the same as using training wheels. Rift is less flashy, but is better for what you are trying to do. Especially post board, when people are fighting you with Loam hate, Rift is much better to have around, as Assault will basically be useless, in addition to being hard to cast in the first place.

Max McCall suggested that one Assault, two Lightning Rift might be correct, but for now, I’ll stick with the three Rifts.

Faeries/PLU

This matchup is almost entirely dependant on both player’s playskill, and overall understanding of the matchup. As a Slide player, you just want to play the waiting game. Don’t expose your precious threats to Mana Leak, unless you are going to play several consecutive threats in row. Once you have a Slide or Rift in play, it will be very difficult for them to kill you.

If you don’t have either of those in play, it becomes a bit harder. You probably need to save your Spark Sprays and Slices for their Vendilions. Be sure to Ghost Quarter their Labs unless you really need to kill Mutavault. Don’t go trying to color screw them, it doesn’t work out. Just save your Quarters for what matters.

If you have Loam going, eventually you will find some threats or just dredge into Worm Harvest. Initially, I was losing games here and there because I would dredge away all my win conditions or they would be able to counter them all. However, with the one Worm Harvest, that isn’t a problem anymore and you can dredge to your hearts content.

If they have Tarmogoyf and/or Cryptic Command, their matchup is a lot better. They have to be aggressive to beat you, and Goyf gives them a sick clock while Cryptic provides more disruption and additional answers to your enchantments. Still, it isn’t really a big deal as you have Path to Exile and Wrath of God. As long as you are able to contain their threats, Loam will provide you with the endgame you need.

Post board, they are almost certainly going to have Relic of Progenitus. Relic can be annoying, but it’s easy enough to play around. Keep open a mana whenever you are Loaming to be able to cycle and dredge it back and be careful how many lands you put in your graveyard. Basically, keep your Loam safe and save a cycler if you can, so even though they Relic away your graveyard you still have enough to get your Loam engine started again.

If you have an Ancient Grudge and they are foolish enough to play a Relic early, you shouldn’t be cycling or fetching, and instead waiting until you can resolve the Grudge. You just aren’t in a hurry, so you can afford to wait.

A typical game one will play out like this: First off, you will both be developing your mana and trying to get your engines online. If they have Vendilion Clique or Tarmogoyf, hopefully you are able to kill those. If they don’t have Ancestral or pressure, they will just have a bunch of useless cards. At that point, you should be able to cycle into a Loam, and then continue cycling into some threats.

Post board is much different, as the dance around Relic is kind of annoying.

Sideboarding vs. Faeries:

+ 2 Ancient Grudge, 4 Lightning Helix, 1 Eternal Witness
– 2 Wrath of God, 3 Path to Exile, 2 Edge of Autumn

Helix is very important to have another instant way to mess up their Lab shenanigans. You also want a way to kill Sower so they don’t accidentally kill you by stealing a Finks that you were baiting a counterspell with. Grudges are to fight the aforementioned Relics, and also Shackles and maybe Jittes.

Wraths and Paths are pretty useless if they just have Faeries and Wizards, but when they have Goyfs, things have to change. Edge of Autumn is alright to cast early or cycle off a Flagstones. However, the games against Faeries are going to go late, so you want all of your cards to do something. If you have five or six lands and draw into an Edge, you certainly don’t want to cycle it away because you need all of your lands. There’s really no reason to have them in post board.

Sideboarding vs. Gaudenis PLU with only Cliques and Goyfs for dudes:

+ 1 Path to Exile, 2 Ancient Grudge, 1 Eternal Witness, 2 Ajani Vengeant
– 2 Wrath of God, 3 Edge of Autumn, 2 Loxodon Hierarch, 1 Kitchen Finks

Without a bunch of Mutavaults and little dudes like Spellstutter Sprite, Ajani Vengeant suddenly becomes awesome, both as an answer to Tarmogoyf and as a huge end game threat.

Overall, both matchups are quite good, although sometimes they can just play a Goyf and counter all of your spells. Sometimes you never draw Life from the Loam. You can certainly lose, but you are definitely favored. Just be sure to play fast enough and pressure your opponent to do the same. You probably won’t find any aggressive decks in the draw bracket after all. Consider swallowing your pride and conceding if it comes to it, assuming it doesn’t knock you out of the tournament, as you are probably better off in the x-1 bracket than in the x-0-1 bracket.

Naya Zoo

Zoo is one of the reasons to play Astral Slide. Sulfuric Vortex is basically the only card they have that matters, and you side in a decent amount of cards to combat that. Saito’s Zoo deck is probably going to be the most popular version after his Grand Prix win, and not only does he not play any Vortexes, but he is incredibly burn light as well.

Use your spot removal aggressively so you stay at a high life total, but also be aware of how big of a threat Tarmogoyf or even Woolly Thoctar are. If you Path a Kird Ape and lose straight up to Tarmogoyf, you probably deserve your loss.

Sideboarding vs. Saito Zoo with tons of dudes and no Vortex:

+ 1 Path to Exile, 1 Wrath of God, 4 Lightning Helix, 1 Eternal Witness
– 3 Lightning Rift, 1 Worm Harvest, 2 Slice and Dice, 1 Spark Spray

Sideboarding vs. Naya with Vortexes, more burn and less giant animals:

+ 1 Path to Exile, 4 Lightning Helix, 2 Molder, 2 Duergar Hedge-Mage, 1 Eternal Witness
– 2 Slice and Dice, 2 Wrath of God, 1 Worm Harvest, 3 Lightning Rift, 2 Spark Spray

I could see cutting a Ghost Quarter against the second Naya deck, as your curve is much lower when you don’t have to rely on Wrath of Gods, but it is probably just better to cut a Spark Spray. The Worm Harvest is slow and it will probably never come down to that, so it can easily get the axe. Lightning Rift is abysmal against three toughness guys, and that is basically all that they have.

I tend to side in the third Witness a lot, as post board your deck should have all great cards in the matchup. However, if you draw a Lightning Rift, a Slice and Dice, and an Eternal Witness game one against Naya, the Witness and your entire hand in general are all pretty bad. Once you swap those semi dead Slices and Rifts for Helixes and such, Witness becomes a lot better.

Ajani might be alright to side in, but especially when I’m on the draw, I would rather have Sprays, since it gets you closer to your better cards against them and lets you dig for Vortex removal if you need to. On the play, it could be alright as it will either Helix a Nacatl and then gain you a couple more life while they attack or burn it, or can hold off a bigger guy for a while.

This is a great matchup as long as you play conservatively and make sure to mulligan hands that can’t contain a decent start from them.

Loam

Despite what you may be thinking, Astral Slide is very much the favorite against other Loam decks. In the first game, they can’t beat either of your enchantments, and you both have Worm Harvest. Post board, they are going to try and fight you with Extirpates, but you really don’t even need Loam to beat them. Ajani or even Witness plus Slide is insane against them, and both are basically unstoppable.

Sideboarding can be tricky. You just have to be aware of what version they are playing, how many creature threats they have, how they plan on killing your enchantments (if they even can), and how they plan on beating you. If they just have Goyfs, Finks, and Knights, then you should probably keep in all of your Paths and Wraths to ensure that you don’t randomly lose to a beatdown draw, and because those cards protect your Ajanis.

I would generally cut Edge of Autumn as it can be dead late game, as I never want to sacrifice a land, and Spark Spray because it doesn’t do enough.

Elves

This is one of your worst matchups, but can be easily won if you draw the removal part of your deck. The games where you play removal, removal, and then Rift with two open and a cycler usually aren’t very close unless they draw two Glimpse of Natures. Slice and Dice is huge against them, and if you expect a lot of Elves, you should probably be playing more Slices in the sideboard somewhere.

Sideboarding:

+ 4 Lightning Helix, 1 Wrath of God, 1 Eternal Witness, 1 Path to Exile, 2 Duergar Hedge-Mage
– 4 Kitchen Finks, 2 Loxodon Hierarch, 1 Astral Slide, 1 Ghost Quarter, 1 Life from the Loam

You can afford to cut all the monsters and shave some of the slower cards, as all you really need to do is survive the early game, and worry about how you are going to win the game later.

Path to Exile might seem kind of crappy against them, and to some extent it is. However, their best chance of beating you is Glimpse of Nature, and if you can end their turn by taking out Heritage Druid at a key point, you will probably win the game. Also, you would much rather they have a Forest than a Wirewood Symbiote, even if their deck becomes much better with every extra land they have.

The Hedge-Mages are a countermeasure to the Fecundities or Steely Resolves they will almost certainly be bringing in. If they don’t have them, it’s even better for you.

Bant

This is the new kid on the block. For some reason, the masses continue to pick up a midrange green deck, even if it is kind of crappy in the format. Thankfully, you have Wrath of God and Astral Slide in your deck, so you don’t mind if you sit down across from a slow creature deck.

Sideboarding:

+ 1 Wrath of God, 1 Path to Exile, 1 Eternal Witness
– 3 Lightning Rift

Try to not get out tempoed and Loam them out. This is kind of like the Faeries matchup in that they have a clock, some disruption, and probably Relics, but overall you are favored.

If they do have Relic and/or Vedalken Shackles, you might want to bring in the Grudges.

TEPS

You really shouldn’t even bother playing. If you can, try to make them think you have Gilded Light or just lull them into a false sense of security and try to have them keep bad hands “because your matchup is unsinkable.” That is about your only hope, and that is how both Gabe and Cedric have chalked up match wins against TEPS.

Sideboarding:

+ 2 Ajani Vengeant, 2 Molder, 2 Ancient Grudge, 1 Eternal Witness
– 2 Wrath of God, 1 Worm Harvest, 3 Path to Exile, 1 Slice and Dice

Affinity

Due to the Naya Zoo matchup, and the fact that you need Path and enchantment removal for them, you have a great Affinity matchup almost by accident. Be cautious, just like against Naya. Don’t allow yourself to get killed by a surprise Fatal Frenzy, and don’t bother using great removal on stuff like Frogmite or Blinkmoth Nexus if you have other ways of dealing with them that you can’t cast yet. Eventually, things like Finks or Slide will make those irrelevant, so save your removal (if you can) for their good cards like Ravager, Plating, and Master of Etherium.

Sideboarding:

+ 1 Wrath of God, 1 Path to Exile, 2 Molder, 2 Ancient Grudge, 1 Eternal Witness, 2 Duergar Hedge-Mage
– 3 Lightning Rift, 2 Slice and Dice, 2 Loxodon Hierarch, 2 Spark Spray

Loxodon Hierarch is actually too slow against Affinity and doesn’t trade favorably with many of their dudes.

So there you have it. Finally, there is a good deck in Extended. You will beat up on all the aggro decks, and only lose to the occasional Faerie or Elf deck, or TEPS if you are unlucky enough to get that pairing. If you were around a few years ago when Slide was popular and know the archetype well enough, you should probably be playing it in the last two PTQs. Just remember to get some practice in and try to play fast.

As always, direct any questions to the forums and I’ll be more than happy to answer them.

GerryT

 

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