Silvestri Says: Lessons from Extended

If you’re like me, you took an interest in Extended over the past couple of months and probably took the opportunity to play in a PTQ, Grand Prix or even just a local tournament. Now that Extended is effectively over* it seems time to look back at the format and see what lessons we can glean from this season for the upcoming Standard qualifiers.

*With the exception of GP: Kobe

Lesson 1: Don’t write off janky looking decks with true combo potential

Even though there are no truly practical combo decks in Standard, there are still decks that have real potential buried in them if the right build is possible. One recent example would be “Rad Nauseum’, which is based around the Ad NasueumSeismic Assault kill; running between 36-42 lands and scant few actual spells unrelated to the kill! Sure, it’s not going to be the next Dragonstorm, but it has a very unique way of attacking the format by being 100% unreliant on creatures while threatening a very early kill. Most importantly though is many decks aren’t really equipped to fight against this sort of deck.

Earlier this week, Bill Stark posted a unique milling deck that he played at a recent GPT featuring such hits as Howling Mine, Sanity Grinding and Evacuation. Regardless of how strong the actual concept is (I’m very interested if the metagame shifts back toward the 5cc / Faeries train wreck it was previously), the key to realize is that it can attack decks in a way not previously seen at a competitive level. Sure everyone has been essentially “fogged to death’ by Cryptic Command tapping down your team for sometimes multiple turns, but the idea of drawing enough cards a turn where chaining into a sweeper or tap-down spell every turn until the opponent is decked certainly introduces a new wrinkle to things.

Basically people are usually too quick to write off anything that has the potential to just win before the opponent’s strategy can get going unless it’s obviously the best deck in the format. Either they’re scared of inconsistency of combo or they just don’t want to put effort into trying to update lists. Sometimes this saves you some testing and deck construction time and other times it means you miss out on the best deck for that tournament.

Lesson 2: Keep “inferior’ archetypes in mind for metagame shifts

TEPS is just worse than Elves, obviously, why would you ever want to play a slower combo deck with no back-up plan when you could do Elves? Slide is just a non-blue control deck, no way that’s actually good when you have strong blue counters and creatures are your disposal.

There were a number of points during the Extended season where a previously tier two strategy was one of the best choices for a given field, despite it being the exact same deck you wrote off two weeks ago. This has the potential to be even more prevalent in Standard where a lot of decks feel like they have slight edges against each other while a few stick toward the outliers of beating the majority of decks while having a nearly unwinnable match elsewhere. The key to remember is that if you see an opening in the metagame, you might be able to exploit it while not necessarily falling apart against your supposed bad matches in the Standard format. Perhaps people go very anti-control and anti-tokens and then Merfolk becomes a worthwhile option since it has defense against common sweepers while still winning relatively quickly. G/W Tokens has a pretty crummy 5cc match, but two of them were in a Top 4 split this past weekend at the Star City 1K in a field mostly consisting of midrange green and red decks.

One of the biggest disservices you can do to yourself is contain yourself to only the perceived “best decks’ in a format. Sure sometimes the best deck is just the best deck and you would be wrong not to play it; Trix, Tinker, Affinity are all great examples of when this was the case. The nice thing about ‘best deck syndrome’ now is with the 24/7 nature of the internet and Magic Online, you can find out pretty quickly how accurate such a statement really is about a certain deck. If you just take the group’s word for it and only test against the most-known quantities, you can’t really complain when the guy playing the old Doran deck shows up and smashes you into a million pieces because your sleeker white aggro deck wasn’t prepped for a deck that played bigger guys at every point in the curve and had Profane Command.

Lesson 3: Never underestimate the “dumb’ creature decks

Important point to note, there is always a dumb creature deck and people will always play it. For this Extended season that honor was bestowed to Naya Zoo, last year it was 5c Zoo and years before that it was Affinity and Goblins and before or alongside those it was Red Deck Wins. Every single year no matter what the best deck happens to be, there’s going to be some sort of aggressive curve-out deck that a large number of players latch onto and consistently PTQ with.

The best way to describe why this happens from a strategic point of view is that these decks typically give you the least chance of running into Murphy’s Law*. These decks are redundant, consistent and give you a high chance to punish any misstep or poor mana / mulligan draws on the part of the opponent. These decks also are usually easier than other archetypes would be, but how much so is highly exaggerated. There’s a reason why the Japanese typically were the ones doing the best with decks like Red Deck Wins and Saito went undefeated with Naya Zoo. There’s still plenty of skill involved, but the decks are typically built around less complex decision trees which actually favors them of the course of a long tournament.

*Murphy’s Law essentially states that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, without fail.

For Standard, a lot of decks feel like dumb straight-forward creature decks, but really I think only Kithkin and Doran really fall under the definition. Everything else feels like it falls under a midrange or metagame buster type deck along the lines of Three Deuce or Dump Truck. Those two in particular are based around having solid curves and being able to keep the resources in play while constantly attacking.

Lesson 4: Learn to look back set-wise instead of only forward in regards to new additions to decks as the season progresses

How much did Conflux change Extended? It brought us Path to Exile which was a legitimately big deal and Knight of the Reliquary saw some play; past those two not a lot of impact really occurred. Meanwhile just looking at Zoo decks brought us the advances of Ranger of Eos, Wooly Thoctar, Thrill of the Hunt and a host of other advances from the already existing card pool. Cards that might not have been as effective at the beginning of the season suddenly become the driving factors in deciding certain matches. Meanwhile Aggro Loam decks which had been struggling since the beginning of Extended, came back with a vengeance toward the end thanks to the reemergence of Boom / Bust and Thoughts of Ruin bringing a legitimate anti-mana strategy to the table.

Obviously the card pool is a lot bigger in other formats than Standard, but the same principles apply. Instead of just shoehorning every Alara Reborn card into a deck over the first month it’s out, perhaps after that initial tryout period, people look back at some cards that might’ve gotten a whole lot more intriguing in the metagame. Recently Overrun has been coming on strong and making an impact in the format, while cards like Profane Command, Wren’s Run Vanquisher and Sanity Grinding all also have shown up in some form or another. Just as with point #2, many of these cards have seen play before or at least have had cursory looks into their potential, but largely were all discarded.

What seems to happen is that any people decide that whatever cards were popular in the past aren’t popular now and hence they must not be all that good. Certainly this is the actual case at times, but again it truly limits how much of an edge you can gain. It really doesn’t take that long to take a look at what decks were doing well a few months ago and sometimes borrowing something from the past is the most effective weapon you can have in the present.

So at this point I think I’ve hit the major lessons I gained from this particular Extended season, taking all this into account, what am I going to start picking up in preparation for the Standard season? I’m already well versed in Faeries, so the two decks I plan to focus on are G/W tokens and Doran variants that aren’t Dark Bant. Both strategies bring something I like to the table in their straightforwardness and power level while being a bit less known and tested against than the usual batch of W/R, 5cc and Faeries decks. The other deck I’ll be keeping an eye on is Sanity Grinding in case it really is a viable glass cannon deck in the vein of Owling Mine a few years ago.

Mind you this doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore all the other archetypes available, rather the ones that are similar to decks I’ve had previous experience with I can put on the back burner unless a really compelling reason comes up as to why I should play them. Of course I’m assuming Cascade has been thoroughly put through the ringer in regards to Alara Reborn, because otherwise we’ll be looking at a new mechanic which could be the most abusive cycle of cards since the “untap’ mechanic from Urza’s Block and just destroy the format. Based on the way they’ve worded Cascade, R&D has really put themselves into a corner for ways this can be dealt with unless the cards are very well designed.

That’s all for now, next week enough of Alara Reborn should’ve been spoiled to get some constructed sketches going.

Josh Silvestri

Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom


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