I’ve been kicking myself all week. After I wrote last week’s article, I had the horrifying revelation that I had completely forgotten to explain the sweet Gruesome Encore joke that began in San Diego. For those interested in Magic strategy and not horrible jokes, I recommend you skip this section and proceed to the section titled “ACTUAL MAGIC STRATEGY”.
The whole thing started in our second draft in San Diego. Owen opened his pack, and made an offhand comment that would end up wasting many hours of our collective lives (no small thanks to me, of course). After making his pick, he said “I hope this draft isn’t a Gruesome Encore of the last one”, and showed us the Gruesome Encore he opened. Once the pack wheeled, the Encore was naturally still there, so he treated us to, you guessed it, an encore presentation. That was the beginning of the end. Every time there was a Gruesome Encore in the pack, Owen basically made the same joke. At one point, he passed a pack to Efro, who promptly passed it back and demanded Owen make the Encore joke, since he had forgotten.
Things really got going when Web joined in, which nobody expected. At one point, Web added a pack to a draft (a draft he wasn’t even in) that contained nothing but Gruesome Encores, which all of us just passed around the table, further enabling the joke. The beauty of the joke is that it is self-referential and recursive. It cannot die. Every time you make the joke, as bad as it is, it’s just a Gruesome Encore of the last time the joke was made. The name of the joke itself perfectly describes it!
Needless to say, I was hooked. The combination of puns, stupidity, and repetition is exactly the sort of thing I enjoy, and I was determined to keep the joke going (in appropriately Gruesome fashion). I started adding Gruesome Encores to the Constructed decks we were testing, much to the chagrin of PV (and everyone else). I say PV specifically because he wasn’t there when the joke started, thought it was stupid anyway, and kept getting got by it. Imagine this: PV and wrapter are intently testing the UW vs Valakut matchup. PV casts Oracle of Mul Daya, and flips…Gruesome Encore. That’s what I’m talking about! Anytime someone asked “would you keep this?”, the hand would invariably have multiple Encores, and the best was Jace. If you Fatesealed them and saw Gruesome Encore, there was nothing better than thinking for a while, putting it back on top, and waiting to see their face when they drew it.
At one point, after yet another “potential sideboard” got passed with one Ratchet Bomb on top and all Gruesome Encores underneath, PV asked when this would stop. After all, the Pro Tour was in a few days! Of course, that statement got repeated in its own sort of Gruesome Encore, as “a few days” became “tomorrow”, and “tomorrow” became “pairings are going up in ten minutes, we don’t have a last sideboard card, and you just handed me a stack of Gruesome Encores aldskjaslkdjasdla!!!”. I don’t want to portray PV as a killjoy or anything, because he got in the spirit eventually, but it was just funny seeing him get used to the fact that yes, THIS was the group of people he chose to test with.
The joke has yet to die, and was going strong in Denver. My birthday was last week, and on Saturday morning, wrapter gave me a birthday present. In a nicely wrapped box, there was a big stack of Gruesome Encores! He then said “I was just kidding, here’s your real present”. What was it? ANOTHER STACK of Encores, in another nice box! Wrapter is awesome. After building our sealed decks, I made a decoy deck of all those encores, and had it in its own deckbox. Whenever someone asked to see my sealed, I handed that one first.
Wow, that was a long explanation. Writing all that down made me think about it all again, a delightful Gruesome Encore of memories. Did you know that in French, Gruesome Encore is “Horrible Repetition” ? Pat innovated that technology when he found a French one, and I still have it in my wallet right now.
ACTUAL MAGIC STRATEGY
By far the biggest thing to happen to Constructed Magic recently is the breakout of Sword of Feast and Famine, frequently accompanied by Stoneforge Mystic. After we ranched Paris with our Caw-go deck (I’m gonna go ahead and pat our entire team on the back again…we did great), Swords began popping up everywhere. I’m not saying we invented it or anything, since the Japanese got there too, but Paris definitely showcased how good Sword of Feast and Famine is.
The first deck I had the inclination to add Sword to is Faeries in Extended. Sword seemed pretty awesome, and Mistbind Clique and Vendilion Clique, as well as Thoughtseize, all set it up perfectly. After a few events worth of testing, here is a pretty sweet Faeries list:
Gone are the little Jaces, since Sword is your new plan. Big Jace works ridiculously well with Sword, since you want something to tap out for when you get to double up on mana. Bouncing a guy into them discarding is sweet too, and he keeps you rolling in counters. I’m considering moving back to a 3rd Mana Leak over one of the removal spells, but for now I would play the maindeck as-is. Go for the Throat is another obvious upgrade, and even though it can’t hit a guy wearing a Sword, it still kills pretty much everything else (though not Tidehollow Sculler, which is quite relevant).
While the changes aren’t huge (basically -2 Jace Beleren +2 Sword) from old Faeries, the addition of Sword is. Now you have yet another card that gives you a huge mana advantage AND a ton of card advantage, with some extra damage thrown in for good measure. Curving Mistbind into Sword or Vendilion into Sword puts them in a pretty untenable position. All of a sudden they are on a 2-3 turn clock and have to discard a card, all while you have all your mana untapped. It even works really well with manlands; Mutavault because it’s cheap and Tar Pit because it always connects. I already thought Faeries was insane, and this seems to have increased its edge over matchups like Valakut/Control, not changed the aggro matchup all that much, and given it new decks to prey on. The UW list (which I’ll talk about next) is quite good, but I still think Faeries has the edge, especially with the SB plan I’ve been using.
Sword also changes how the mirror plays out drastically. Bitterblossom just keeps getting worse and worse, and the adage of “whoever has Blossom wins” couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, I’d much rather have Blossom than not, but Sword trumps it in a big way, and even Creeping Tar Pit can outrace it. The addition of Swords has made me start keeping Vendilion Clique in the deck postboard, since Cliquing their answer and Swording is awesome. Part of the reason that Clique sucked before is that it did nothing against Bitterblossom. Now with Sword, it bashes in for 5 with no fear of tokens.
The sideboard is designed to take advantage of the Sword as well. Flashfreeze is for Valakut, since counters + Sword is the combination you want, and Sower is a reaction to all the other Sword decks. Both UW and Bant are still very soft to Sower, and just by being blue it gets around the protection aspect. So far I’ve been crushing UW postboard, since an unanswered Sower is almost always game, and you have a bunch of ways to make sure they don’t have answers. The notable absence is Vampire Nighthawk, which have lost some of their luster recently. They do nothing against Sword, Go for the Throat kills them easily, and Naya decks are on the downswing due to all the UW decks.
I would definitely recommend this deck for anyone wanting to get into Extended, though there are plenty of good options out there. One argument against Faeries is that Bitterblossom is just falling behind the curve. It’s sad to say, but that might be true. With Sword cutting right through it and Valakut ignoring it, Blossom isn’t the auto-win it used to be. Still, I like the deck as a whole enough to recommend it. It still offers a very synergistic package, and the power of Mistbind Clique, Cryptic Command, one-mana discard, and efficient removal is hard to pass up. It isn’t like Faeries is drawing dead to a Sworded guy, either. It has Jace and Cryptic to bounce, Mistbind, Vendilion, and Spellstutter to race/chump, and even Mutavault to throw in the way. It will take a little adjustment, since Bitterblossom is no longer AS ridiculous as it used to be, but I think the deck is still awesome.
The biggest new deck is of course UW:
This is the list designed by ShipitHolla (Michael Hetrick), which both he and _SipItHolla played to Top 8 finishes in an online PTQ. In a cruel twist of fate, Hetrick lost to the deck he built, and _SipItHolla went on to win the PTQ. In my recent forays into online play, this seems like one of the most popular decks. It is a huge upgrade to old UW, which I thought was terrible, and much like Standard Caw-go, gets to play both Control and Aggro at the same time. Wraths, Paths, and Finks all punish aggro, while Stoneforge into Vendilion + counterspells is sick against Valakut. I’m not a huge fan of the one Mulldrifter, but I like the rest of the deck, and this showcases the most obvious way to take advantage of Sword in Extended. It might be nearing the time where multiple Swords are needed, just because of discard or artifact removal, since I’ve definitely beaten UW by making them discard the Sword after they Stoneforge for it.
Again, I think Sower is one of the most awesome cards in the format, and would pack some into the sideboard. They are sick in the mirror and against Bant, and even against Naya and Faeries they can be good. Mirran Crusader is another option I’ve seen recently, though I don’t think this deck necessarily needs it. If attrition-based matchups become more common, Reveillark could be a sweet piece of tech, probably as a 1 or 2 of (and it works well with Sower also).
Other decks that are starting to adopt the Stoneforge/Sword package are the aforementioned Bant deck, BW Tokens, Naya, and even Doran. Like it or not, Sword is here to stay, and adjusting to it is going to reward you. Valakut decks (of any flavor) are now currently behind on technology, and if they want to stay relevant they are going to need to find a way to profitably deal with Sword. The combination of Sword and counterspells just hammers this deck, especially because it frequently needs ALL its lands and ALL its spells to win. Nature’s Claim, Lightning Bolt, and other such instants are a start, but I’m not sure they are going to do the trick. Siding in Nature’s Claim against a UW Control deck filled with counters just seems miserable, especially if they expect it. Don’t just snap put in Sword on turn three…wait until you have Flashfreeze or Mana Leak up.
Moving forward, I expect UW to be one of the best decks in the format. It has the tools to beat basically anything, and there are a ton of tweaks that can be made to the list. It can play artifact destruction to beat Swords, counters against combo, has access to all sorts of creature removal, and even gets cards like Baneslayer Angel.
I hope everyone has a good time exploring Extended, because the format just got shaken up and now is the time when fast adaptation really pays off (as _SipItHolla can tell you).