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Rogue Report – Start Your Engines

 

Sixty card decks feel so much bigger after a long season of Limited. Not only are they heavy with the weight of twenty extra cards, but the gravity of ideas soaked in your own blood, sweat, and tears. The deck you present that first round of the PTQ is the last man standing, the final gladiator to make it through your fierce gauntlet. It’s been inspected top to bottom, every advantage coddled and every flaw ridiculed. It is in this deck that you place your hopes and dreams. It is through this deck you’ll see the world, pay for college, land the job, get the girl. The deck has become an extension of yourself; when it fails, you fail, but when it succeeds it’s there to share the glory. Time is short. Choose wisely.

January 2nd is the day of the first Extended PTQ of the season, and it’s less than three weeks away. Luckily Christmas break is perfectly timed to allow me to test without sacrificing school. I’ll be in Montana for a week with little to distract me from Magic, assuming I’ll have somebody to test with over the Internet. Last season Zaiem and I spend the whole break playing Martyr of Sands, and it paid off in by far my most successful season yet. I made Top 8 of the first PTQ of the season, landed in my first Grand Prix of the season, and eventually qualified for the Pro Tour. Sure, I qualified playing something other than Martyr of Sands, the deck I spent all season testing, but it was only because of my experience with the format that winning was even possible.

I’m looking to continue my success in the first PTQ of the season (starting with Mishra back in Time Spiral Block) but this time I intend to turn that Top 8 into a win. Heck, I’m going to turn that Grand Prix day two into a win. (As Flores would tell you, overshoot.) Last season I got a taste, and this season I want the whole hamburger. I can’t expect to succeed by doing the exact same thing I did last year, which means I’ve got to start testing earlier and more often.

Choose Your Own Adventure

While the PTQ is fast approaching, we’ve still got a little flex time in our deck choice. We have time to try different paths, and if that page is a dead end we’ve still got time to turn back. Last season I wouldn’t let myself play the best deck, Wizards/Faeries, because I knew I couldn’t play it as well as the people I would likely play the mirror match against in Top 8, and I didn’t want to put the time in to learn the deck. This season, however, I’m determined not to keep myself from playing the best deck for the tournament. If that deck ends up being Tezzeret, so be it. Luckily, with a lot of help from Zaiem, I’ve gotten most of the deck together on Magic Online. I’ve been playing the deck when I have a spare moment, and while a lot of my opponents in the tournament practice room aren’t top notch, I’m just trying to get familiar with the deck. Then, if nothing else seems promising, I can settle on Tezzeret a week before the tournament and really learn how to play it. Also, somebody has got to play Tezzeret while testing, and it helps if that person kind of knows what they are doing.

On the other hand, let’s brew! A healthy Extended is probably my favorite Constructed format because there are so many possibilities. This season we’ve got Tezzeret as the control deck, Zoo as the aggro deck, and a mass of combo decks like Hypergenesis, Dredge, and Dark Depths. Then there are decks like All-In Red and Bant keeping everybody honest. Decks are tending to be very linear or very well rounded, either hoping to succeed through exceptional power or adaptability.

I enjoy looking back through old Standard formats and trying to find forgotten strategies that might attack Extended in a new way. Sometimes decks that were powerful enough to succeed in Standard can use that same power in Extended (like Affinity) or they find just the right tool to make themselves powerful enough (like Riptide Laboratory.) Let’s hop in the time machine and see what the past has to offer.

Second Best

I’m always worried about being the second-best deck when it comes to doing X. For example, why be the second best deck at using your graveyard if people are already hating out Dredge? If you’re not using the graveyard better than they are, then it probably isn’t worth it. Similarly, why use cool lands like Urza’s Tower when people are already playing Ghost Quarter for Dark Depths?

That’s why I was initially scared to try Krark-Clan Ironworks because Affinity seemed to be using artifacts better. You don’t want to battle your way through Kataki, War’s Wage with the second best artifact deck! However, Affinity has barely made an impact on the current Extended metagame, which I’m pretty happy about. I remember fantasizing about the new Extended format, the one without sac lands, and in our minds Affinity was going to be popular. I don’t know if it was the removal of stacked damage or what, but Affinity isn’t doing anything impressive anymore.

If Kataki is leaving people’s sideboards then maybe KCI is worth looking at. Here’s the list Manuel Bevand used to Top 8 Worlds back in 2004:

This is one of the decks that live close to my heart, so I try to play it every chance I get. It’s never worked for me since the one States, but there are a few reasons I think it has a decent shot this time around. As I mentioned before, hopefully Kataki will stay absent long enough for KCI to make a run for the title. Also, with the introduction of Open the Vaults in M10, I feel like the deck has a much better late game. It looks like people are still going to be packing Ancient Grudge against Tezzeret, so it’s not like artifacts are completely safe, but Ancient Grudge isn’t nearly as devastating against this deck as it was against Affinity. KCI doesn’t really care about specific permanents as much, just the number of permanents. With Open the Vaults the deck can easily recover from artifact destruction with one spell, it just has to live to cast it.

As for win condition, Myr Incubator is still good, but it probably isn’t enough in a format of Engineered Explosives. Luckily the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek combo fits right into the deck, which also works to give you infinite mana, life, and 1/1s with KCI in play. The deck could go full-on combo and try to race that way, but I think there’s also a version that is a little more controlling, coming out to look a bit like Tezzeret, using cards like Engineered Explosives and Academy Ruins, and who knows, maybe even Tezzeret himself.

The other second-best deck that was predicted to succeed early in the format was the Urzatron deck, probably UW. It experienced some success last season, but never really took off. So what went wrong this season? Dark Depths happened and practically every deck is playing Ghost Quarter somewhere. There was, however, a different Urzaland deck that succeeded back in Standard, and that was Gabriel Nassif’s Martyr of Sands deck that earned him a Top 8 slot in 2006. I’m not confidant that Urza lands are safe, but I love Martyr of Sands, so it’s likely that I’ll try something like this out.

Rock, Paper, Tooth

The last deck I want to bring up is Tooth and Nail. It was very successful back in the day, and the format doesn’t seem to be very counterspell heavy. It’s still a nine mana sorcery, but we can’t let that stop us. I’ve actually been entertaining the idea of some weird Hypergenesis-Tooth and Nail hybrid, allowing us to hardcast more Tooth and Nails just to put two creatures into play. I’m not sure that deck does anything better than Hypergenesis, but it’s a thought.

What I’m worried about is that Tooth and Nail was largely successful because it was the best green deck, and green had the best hate suite against Affiniy. Without matchups like that to feast on, can Tooth and Nail succeed? Can the deck ever be fast enough to beat Zoo? Is it worth spending nine mana when they just have Path to Exile?

I keep going back to Zac Hill’s deck from Pro Tour: Valencia, dubbed Rock and Nail. It’s not so much a combo deck with Tooth and Nail as a Rock deck that uses Tooth and Nail. Looking around the current Extended, I don’t see a Rock deck, which I don’t think has ever happened. Somebody always plays the Rock, right? People will tell you why you shouldn’t play the Rock, and the Rock is rarely dominating or overpowered, but it’s always there. Is this season pulling the Rock deck in too many directions? Or have we just not tried hard enough yet?

I don’t know if Rock and Nail is the way to go, but I am interesting in checking out some deck that uses Doran and Thoughtsieze. I just want to try the Rock strategy to prove to myself why it isn’t working. The thing is, can you ever surprise a tournament with The Rock? It’s like trying to surprise somebody with, I don’t know, a Rock or something. Surprise! Tarmogoyf bet you didn’t see that one coming. Loxodon Hierarch – Kapow! They’ll never know what hit them.

Good luck in your own Extended adventures – I’d love to hear about any cool decks floating around. I’m planning on doing very little except Magic for the next three weeks, though the seven day free trial of World of Warcraft has created an itch that is hard to scratch any other way. The drive to get on the Pro Tour is fierce, so I should be safe from Azeroth’s grip, at least for the next three weeks. Wish me luck.

Thanks for reading,

Jonathon Loucks
Loucksj at gmail
JonLoucks on Twitter
Zygonn on Magic Online

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