Hello everyone, I am Yuuya Watanabe.
Like Japanese player Shuhei Nakamura, I am a hardcore Magic junkie who travels the world playing in events. I will now be writing articles for ChannelFireball once a month. Thank you all for your interest.
Because it is a fairly difficult task to also get my article serialized on an official Japanese website, I will only be writing once a month. If ChannelFireball has space for more articles I think I would like to write two each month, but at this time I am still not able to do so. If I have the chance I would be happy to share my articles that are being serialized in Japan.
I will be relying on the skill of a translator to report back to you because I cannot write in English. Although I want to get this information to you quickly the subject of my articles may sometimes be a little outdated since it takes time to translate an article. I would be pleased if you would tolerate this.
However, I think that the subject of today’s article will be Extended. As a matter of fact, with Grand Prix Kobe approaching I have been playing this format exclusively. It is in my home country and it is natural that I should attend. Recently I haven’t played Standard or Draft at all, but with Standard my only uncertainty is whether White/Blue Caw-Blade with a splash of red or black is a strong choice. Today my article will give you a basic understanding of the Extended format.
With this in mind, I think I would like to touch upon the subject of the current Extended environment. Based on my experience in Japanese tournaments and on Magic Online, I think the Extended environment is something like this:
• Red/Green Valakut
• Blue/White Stoneforge Mystic
• Mono Green Elves
• Mono Red
• Prismatic Omen Valakut
This approximates it pretty well. Altogether there are a lot of options. There are also decks like Jund, Five Color Control and various others, but I think that in comparison they are not tournament level decks.
Well then, let’s discuss each of these decks a little. Because introducing every deck would take a long time, I think I will introduce only the tier one decks. I feel that reading this brief introduction to each deck is a good idea both for players who do not play Extended so that they can get a feel for the format and for those who do who can review its main ideas.
Afterwards, I will include a winning deck list for each from a Japanese tournament.
As was the case in the previous environment, the unchanging Faeries deck continues to occupy a seat in the top tier of decks. However, it is my personal belief that Faeries is now a deck facing extremely harsh circumstances. While Sword of Feast and Famine has strengthened Faeries, being faced up against this very same card puts Faeries is in a difficult position, because Bitterblossom tokens cannot block a creature wearing the Sword as it gives it protection from black. Additionally, none of the Faeries player’s removal spells can touch it: a very different effect from that of the protection from blue granted by a Sword of Body and Mind. Having an opponent get this brutal sword with Stoneforge Mystic is Faeries’ worst nightmare.
Mirran Crusader is a problem for the exact same reason as Sword of Feast and Famine. In contrast with Sword, Mirran Crusader creates many more difficult situations because it does not interrupt actions. When your opponent gets a turn two Crusader using Noble Hierarch your future already looks bleak.
After Besieged was released, this card became a standard inclusion in white Extended decks. Because of Mirran Crusader, if Faeries sticks a turn two Bitterblossom the chances of having an easily winnable game become extremely low.
These are the current reasons I think Faeries is in a tough place.
However, Faeries is still a strong deck. There are so many difficult situations for it, and still it stays among the ranks of the environment’s tier one decks. Turn one Thoughtseize followed up by turn two Bitterblossom is as strong a play as ever, and Mistbind Clique’s incredible power also keeps it going strong. Although there are many examples of dire straits for the Faeries deck, the deck certainly has a lot of raw power when it can push these aside.
GPT Kobe / Top 8
This list plays only one copy, but if I were to play Faeries today I think I would use more copies of Sower of Temptation in the main deck. It is a clear answer to Mirran Crusader and I think there are many creature-based decks in this environment that find this card difficult to deal with in game one. If we are only looking at tier one decks as I wrote above, it seems that Red/Green Valakut is surprisingly ineffective against Faeries.
• Red/Green Valakut
I have seen very little of this deck on Magic Online, but in Japanese tournaments many players use Red/Green Valakut. It might be that there are many more unskilled Faeries players. It seems that there are various reasons, but it is still a powerful deck. Faeries has the potential to win via a fast beatdown plan, and even with less skilled players its win percentage is so stable things may look hopeless for Valakut. I think that at best its win rate is 4:6.
In today’s Extended metagame among the decks mentioned above, this is the only deck that does not rely on creatures, and I think that in the current environment it takes on the role of a combo deck. Nowadays because almost every deck includes some sort of creature removal in the main deck Red/Green Valakut’s strategy of making these cards completely useless is an extremely strong one.
To some extent if you are a Standard Valakut player it will be simple to make the switch without issue, and it might be said that this is a fitting choice for players who do not usually play Extended. This is because just adding Scapeshift and Prismatic Omen to a Standard Valakut deck will suffice. Given this, compared to other decks it is fairly easy.
This deck is like the Standard deck because there are extremely few cards you can use to interfere in your opponent’s plan, and a sweet play by your opponent that goes completely unresisted can lead to your defeat. Alternatively, you can also lose to not drawing Primeval Titan or Scapeshift. If you cannot endure this sort of loss, it is better to stop using the deck. Incidentally, I don’t think I’ll be using this deck because I cannot handle that kind of defeat!
GPT Kobe / Top 4
Because there were few players using this deck on Magic Online, there were no countermeasures taken against it, but against this deck I think interference that doesn’t slow you down is best. Lately in Japan I often see Leyline of Sanctity and Mindlock Orb being played. I also think that this kind of countermeasure is a good idea, and that decks that can resist them are powerful choices.
Make no mistake, this deck is one of the toughest in the environment.
• Blue/White Stoneforge Mystic
This is the Extended version of the seemingly rampant Standard deck Caw-Blade. In Extended, Squadron Hawk is removed, but the main idea is still to use Stoneforge Mystic to search up the swords with counterspell backup, all while attacking your opponent. Before equipping a sword you can view your opponent’s hand with Vendilion Clique to make sure it is safe to do so, and because you have Mirran Crusader whose protection is more relevant here than it is in Standard, it seems there is little to worry about on that front. This applies to equipping Mutavault as well. Thanks to the deck’s spells, Cryptic Command, Path to Exile and others, Extended Blue/White Stoneforge’s strategy is more stable than that of its Standard counterpart.
This deck is extremely well-rounded and because the different things it can do are numerous, it can combat whichever deck your opponent chooses. However, as a result a certain level of play skill is required.
PTQ Nagoya Champion
I have seen a lot of Bant decks on Magic Online lately and its numbers are slowly increasing in Japanese tournaments as well. In terms of characteristics, it is the product of an easy to understand metagame and is strong against both Faeries and Blue/White. Against Faeries, it fetches a sword with Stoneforge Mystic and, with the help of Mirran Crusader, quickly delivers a devastating blow. The effect is complete with Qasali Pridemage destroying their Bitterblossom. In this environment Qasali Pridemage is extremely powerful; aside from Bitterblossom, it can always find a target either by destroying Valakut’s Khalni Heart Expedition or Prismatic Omen, or the two swords Blue/White fetches with Stoneforge Mystic. I agree that the main deck should include four copies. Additionally, Bant Charm is a veritable super card. It can be creature removal, or an answer to an opponent’s sword or even Cryptic Command. There are many reasons that the ability to use this card is extremely powerful.
It is also a fast deck that can drop a turn one Noble Hierarch followed up by a turn two Mirran Crusader. Then if it can resolve an Elspeth, Knight-Errant on the next turn, it can deal twelve damage to its opponent all at once. A third turn clock like that is hard to believe.
It seems to me that in today’s Extended Bant is positioned as the pure beatdown deck.
GPT Kobe / Top 8
I have also seen a Bant list that includes the Sovereigns of Lost Alara and Eldrazi Conscription combo, but I think I prefer the conventional version. Because Sovereigns of Lost Alara is so mana-intensive, you basically have to include cards like Lotus Cobra. And since the original list includes only cards that are strong independently, scrapping them seems unnecessary.
But, against decks like Red/Green Valakut and Mono-Green Elves where winning or losing is determined by the speed of your deck this sort of weapon may become necessary, and it is a good idea to carefully consider your metagame as you build.
• Mono-Green Elves
This is another deck that has been thriving on Magic Online recently. I think that those numbers are still not reflected in Japan.
Mono-Green Elves is extremely easy to understand. This is because all that you have to do is develop your board with elves and then attack with them. Simple, right?
But the speed of the simple strategy of gathering the elves printed from Lorwyn onward is not something to underestimate. If unhindered, Elves can typically reduce its opponent’s life total to zero by as early as turn four. This is especially true if elves that are weak independently receive the bonuses of many elf lords. Joraga Warcaller is particularly amazing. Using the large amount of mana generated by Heritage Druid and Elvish Archdruid the size of its army multiplies, and the synergy with Bramblewood Paragon is outstanding.
Because no one has won a Japanese event with Mono-Green Elves yet, I will use my Elves list from the latest Grand Prix Trial.
GPT Kobe / Top 8
This is the list I used to practice at the Grand Prix Trial. After testing various builds, I settled on this version with three copies of Imperious Perfect and two copies of each of the spells. If it were today I think I would play four copies of the Perfect and consolidate the spells into four copies of Lead the Stampede.
Often on Magic Online I would see lists with Wren’s Run Vanquisher, but I always wondered why these did not play Devoted Druid. I understand why warriors are desirable with Bramblewood Paragon, but Devoted Druid allows you to develop your board with elf lords that might otherwise collect dust in your hand and also makes it easier to play Lead the Stampede.
Additionally, you can activate Ezuri, Renegade Leader’s ability multiple times within a turn. If you have two Devoted Druids it is even possible to use this infinitely.
If you are playing Wren’s Run Vanquisher but not Devoted Druid in Elves, please try switching the two. It should run like a different deck.
After playing Elves, my impression was that it was strong pre-board. If there was no sideboarding, it could beat any deck in the format. Generally, any other archetype could be trampled down by the elvish army. On the other hand, after sideboarding things were pretty difficult.
Every deck has countermeasures: Faeries has Infest and Sower of Temptation, Valakut has Volcanic Fallout as well as Slagstorm and other board sweepers, Blue/White has Day of Judgment and Bant has Linvala, Keeper of Silence. When any of these were played, I felt like I could give up the game for lost. Because I stood a good chance if my opponent did not draw their countermeasures, after sideboarding for game two instead of doubting myself I just hoped my opponent would not draw the crucial cards.
Although I did these things I think it is clear how strong the main deck is because the deck performed consistently well. If there were a solid plan for games two and three, I think Mono-Green Elves would be Extended’s strongest deck right now.
Well, I think that’s it for my tier one deck introduction. I think it would be fine to stop here, but because this may have been a bit wearisome for those already familiar with Extended I’ve prepared something extra.
The decks I am about to discuss do not fall under the categories discussed above: they are what is called “Outside the Meta”.
They both performed well in Japanese tournaments, so I would like to share them with you.
So, first is this deck:
PTQ Nagoya Champion
This is a green/black/white beatdown deck with Doran, the Siege Tower at its core.
The build is very fast and develops the board with excellent low mana cost creatures like Steppe Lynx so that it can swiftly administer the beatdown to its opponent. Despite being a white creature deck the Stoneforge Mystic system is not in place, and I think this may be a result of the creator’s dislike for tempo loss. Even just looking at the deck list you can sense their plan to quickly take down their opponent.
Because many of the creatures in this deck (Doran included) are black or green, at first glance Mirran Crusader and Sword of Feast and Famine might seem problematic. However, the deck has the perfect answers to these issues in the form of Path to Exile and Profane Command. In particular I think that Profane Command is the best answer because it allows you to ignore your opponent’s protection abilities and attack. Usually if you resolve the life loss or fear modes of this spell you can win the game.
The following deck has dominated two recent Japanese PTQs, so its strength has already been proven. And yet at the early PTQs of the season this deck was still in the trial and error stage. I think that this is a victory for the group of players tuning the deck who examined and improved upon its results this season.
And so, one more deck introduction:
GPT TOP4、PTQ TOP8 (and others)
This is a deck designed by my friend Hiroaki Yamakawa. He is always overflowing with original ideas and building creative decks for tournaments, and this example is no exception.
If you look at just the creatures it resembles a Naya deck, but when looking at the spells its identity becomes less clear. Surely most things are possible if you play the Vivid lands and Reflecting Pool, but I think Yamakawa’s clever addition of Mutavault to the supporting mana base is something the average player wouldn’t understand at all. So, if you were to categorize this deck, I think perhaps it is a deck like Bant with Bloodbraid Elf rolled in.
Currently this deck is winning a considerable amount of Japanese tournaments. When you look at the results of tournaments in the Tokyo region you will generally notice it in spite of the fact that the players who use it are not numerous.
I think that this is a difficult deck to combat because of its unpredictability. Because each and every one of the cards in the main deck is strong, if the player can unleash a barrage of power cards it seems that sooner or later they will win.
Turning to look at the sideboard, he uses four copies each of Leyline of Sanctity and Mindlock Orb. This is doubtless due to an awareness of Red/Green Valakut. Because of its largely unwinnable game one match-up, when sideboarding things truly depend on this deck transforming without sacrificing its power. I think that even this alone makes it clear how long Red/Green Valakut could exert influence in Japan.
Consistent results can be expected from this deck loaded with power cards on the long road through Grands Prix and other events. Perhaps the matches at the next Grand Prix will become the eye of the storm.
Lastly, a message from the deck creator Yamakawa himself: “This deck is really fun so if you think it has potential, give it a try!” I have also played this deck and find it quite fun, so if you find it interesting you should absolutely test it out.
Today’s article has grown quite long, so I think I will end it here. For those of you who do not usually play Extended but read this article I would like for you to please follow the Grand Prix Kobe coverage if you can.
Thanks to everyone who read to the end. ‘Til next time!