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Silvestri Says – Peeking into Extended

 

Lotus Cobra is being vastly overrated at the moment. LSV and Chapin both went over why earlier this week, but just to reiterate, people are ignoring the basic faults with the card simply because it does something cool.

This doesn’t mean Lotus Cobra is unplayable, far from it, I think it’ll see play for as long as it’s in Standard. My issue is with those who think it slides into every aggro, aggro-control or midrange archetype and that acceleration is the new codeword for ‘playing big dumb effects’. If you try to cast Ultimatums off of Lotus Cobra, I can’t imagine how you won’t be disappointed most of the time.

The other argument is that you don’t have to go for the gold to get great use from the Cobra. This is somewhat true and I don’t have a problem with people saying this, but it also points out to how similar the Cobra is to Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch. If all you care about is hitting a third turn 4-drop, then any accelerator can do the job. Getting a 3rd turn Baneslayer Angel is nice and the closest to reality for the “Magical Christmas Land” line of plays. If that’s the goal, then Cobra will do well for your deck and have no detrimental effect.

For the rest of the decks, I think going up to 10-12 fetches to take advantage of the Cobra is setting up for failure. Getting four true fetches and the another eight which are essentially just basic land with a -1 life clause attached is not exciting. Yes you can abuse Landfall abilities with it, but it’ll have a serious detriment to your overall mana base and color commitments. The Cobra is a fine card, but much closer to mana creatures we already have unless you try to do something absurd with him.

With that out of the way, let us begin the true topic of the article. There’s a short list of guidelines you should consider when building for Extended (or any power format). I don’t claim these to be original, I’m pretty sure I got most (if not all) of this list from an old Flores or Zvi article.

1. Play the good cards.
2. Abuse core concepts.
3. Know yourself, know your deck.
4. Never play fair.

Those are all solid reasons to consider when picking a deck to heavily invest time into.

1. Play the good cards

Anyone who qualified for the Pro Tour or even played Extended on a serious level last season should have a good grasp on what ‘The good cards” means. Cards like Tarmogoyf, Wild Nacatl, Dark Confidant, Spell Snare, Mind’s Desire and the Fetchlands are all obvious examples. The two most successful decks at the PTQ level, Naya Zoo and Faeries, were full of good cards and got even better working in conjunction with one another. There’s no hard and fast rule for deckbuilding with good cards, but in general the more you can play, the better. Just don’t go nuts or you’ll end up with The Rock; which never ends well.

Kidding aside, the inverse of this is not being afraid of playing a bunch of bad cards if they fully support and take advantage of the good cards. Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating sure look awful without a deck full of artifact lands, Arcbound Worker and Ornithopter doing the setup work. Mind’s Desire decks have a ton of filler, cards that are there purely to find the actual good cards and get them online, and it didn’t make the deck bad.

For this season, Hypergenesis Cascade seems to be the example taking the place of storm combo.

2. Abuse core concepts.

What are the core concepts of Magic? Rules like only being able to play one land a turn, drawing one card a card a turn, limits on how strong your drops are, etc.

In Extended, the core concept of the format is taking an effect you like at a fair cost, and then finding a card that does a similar thing for two less mana. Practically every successful deck in Extended last season was all about cheating on mana costs for curve purposes, which resulted in cheating on land counts to fit more business spells. Linear decks like Affinity, Dredge and Cascade took this to the extreme, where you get effects that would normally take multiple turns and multitudes of cards and mana. Fair decks like Faeries and Zoo weren’t really fair though; only in regards to certain game fundamentals were they considered fair.

There are three basic approaches you can take to this.

You have the Cascade / Dredge approach to the issue. One is based around drawing twenty (or more) cards over the course of a turn and the other is focused around cheating upwards of thirty mana of creatures into play for the cost of a single card. Both of these decks heavily cheat on what I’d consider the core rules of the game and frankly make a mockery out of fair play.

For Dredge, everything relevant still exists for the deck to work. With the printing of Bloodghast and Iona, Shield of Emeria, the one major issue Dredge has left is the lack of valid discard options on turn one. Before we had Tireless Tribe and Putrid Imp, but now we’re stuck with a bunch of slower ways to get Dredge cards into the grave. For reference:

Assuming a single land and no Chrome Mox action, first turn options:

 

Raven’s Crime 

 

One with Nothing 

 

Thoughtseize 

 

Piracy Charm 

 

Tome Scour 

 

Burning Inquiry 

Action spreading into the second turn is much better, turn two options include:

 

Drowned Rusalka 

 

Greenseeker 

 

Llanowar Mentor 

 

Ideas Unbound 

 

Goblin Lore 

 

Oona’s Prowler 

And more.

The obvious upside of the few cards that do something turn one is that you can then cast Goblin Lore or Ideas Unbound unaided and setup a turn three win. Turn two options are also valid, but ideally only cost a single mana so you can still attempt a Burning Inquiry or other draw / disruption spell. Magus of the Bazaar is very powerful in this type of deck, but the number of times I’ve had it come into play and live to activate are extremely low. With Chrome Mox you have a better chance getting it into play early, but with Zoo builds running chunks of one mana removal and Faeries with Spell Snare or a splash of Path of their own, it isn’t particularly strong.

Regardless, many people have likely built Dredge builds. The outline of the average one probably looks something like so:

12-14 Dredgers (Golgari Grave-Troll, Thug, Imp, Darkblast, Dakmor Salvage)

4-8 Dedicated discard slots

8-12 Draw & Discard slots

4 Narcomoeba

2-4 Bloodghast

0-2 Fatestitcher

4 Bridge from Below

2-3 Dread Return

2-4 Dread Return targets (Flame-Kin Zealot, Empyrial Archangel, Sundering Titan, Iona, Shield of Emeria, Sphinx of Lost Truths, Malfegor, etc)

16-20 Mana – I’m guessing Misty Rainforest along with Dryad Arbor to be a cute way for an extra creature and Dakmor Salvage to help bring back Bloodghast.

For what it’s worth I’ve had a lot of success with pretty untuned Dredge decks so far. Sure, it still has problems when they lose their bridges to Mogg Fanatic or beating a turn one Relic of Progenitus, but it has a high level of power and wins a lot by turn four. If people cut back on the amount of graveyard hate in their sideboards, Dredge is probably a better combo deck than Hypergenesis.

For control you have Faeries and Martyr. I’ll let someone more blue inclined explain why Next Level Blue or Faeries has been and always will be brutally effective. I’d rather focus on Martyr-Proclamation as my control deck of choice with the additions from Zendikar and removal of Riptide Lab from Extended.

See, at this point beating Blue decks isn’t very difficult, because they have no way to lock you out of the game. In the Martyr – Fae match, Faeries frequently could get to a point where they could set-up a soft lock by reusing Vendilion Clique and Venser, Shaper Savant. They could strip away all of the Procs / Decree of Justice and keep you stuck at a certain mana level while also shutting off all other ways you had to win with. With this no longer being a danger it becomes much easier to set up situations where you can get a recurring Martyr of Sands and effectively never die. You never have to do anything from that point since eventually you will establish a Mistveil Plains and win via decking.

Obviously against Zoo you are well positioned, so I won’t waste a lot time here. Without Sulfuric Vortex they have no true outs against you, being forced to either kill you before the late-game turns on (rather unlikely) or rely on cards like Relic just to keep your late-game reasonable.

This was my original test list for the Martyr deck.

Martyr

The sideboard is up in the air, but my first inclination is to keep Hide / Seek for the combo matches and mix it up with [card]Chalice of the Void[/card], Mindbreak Trap and [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card] depending on what precise deck sees the most play. Anti-control cards don’t strike me as a great investment with [card]Detritivore[/card] already in the maindeck, but perhaps some [card]Pithing Needle[/card]s to take care of Relics and other anti-graveyard measures could be utilized. The various Trap cards will also need to be looked over, since we can pick from the majority of them without issue

Finally, we have aggro with Zoo. Although there are a number of other viable aggro decks, the most popular (and likely best) one will undoubtedly be either Naya or 5c Zoo. So what’s unfair about this deck? You get to run three of the most powerful creatures of all time, any color of card you want that costs three or less and the best burn of all time. It may not break the rules of Magic, but it sure does push them to the limit. Satio’s list is still valid as a starting point and I would recommend that as the base unless you plan on going back to a full five colors. Obviously Lightning Bolt makes the deck, but what about much vaunted one-drops like Goblin Guide and Steppe Lynx?

Well the answer to that is a big fat, ‘It depends on how aggressive you want to be’. Sure Zoo is, at heart, a straight-forward aggro deck. However towards the end of the season, many versions were turning slower in an attempt to win the mirror and have a better late-game against midrange decks that had adapted to Zoo. Additional slots spent on removal, Path over burn, Fanatic over other two power creatures and the additions of Wooly Thoctar, Knight of the Reliquary and Ranger of Eos all sent it toward a more spread out power curve.

What the new creatures from Zendikar give you is the ability to go back to balls to the wall aggression. Steppe Lynx may suck on defense, but on average it dealt more damage than Kird Ape and there were a number of times where I got to live the dream and bash for eight*. In a deck already naturally running a dozen fetches or so, it’s reasonable to see Lynx getting in for four damage at least once. Even if you don’t live the dream, it still gets in for as much as Kird Ape does unless you kept a two-lander and are incapable of drawing any more of them. The important thing to note is when you can do that, pumping Lynx to a 4/5 on turn three lets it take on practically every opposing creature in the format.

This is vastly superior to sitting with a useless Fanatic or Kird Ape on the board facing down a Kitchen Finks or Tarmogoyf you can’t profitably attack into. It may not be Nacatl good and fails over Kird Ape in defense, but in a Philosophy of Fire style of Zoo, Lynx is very impressive.

*Four damage twice, obviously.

Goblin Guide is an easy sell for very aggressive variants, because the drawback of Guide is irrelevant to actually stopping you. Sure, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the opponent drawing an extra card just doesn’t often come up in a very aggressive version of Zoo. Control opponents will be dead by turn four or five unless they draw a certain amount of Tarmogoyfs anyway. Sure, it gets them slightly closer to doing so in certain situations, but the rest of the time it means you get to bash in for a quarter of the opponents life on turn two.

Obviously in builds favoring the Saito version of Naya Zoo, you don’t want to run these cards. I won’t go as far as Cedric Phillips went in comparing Lynx to Kudzu (so ridiculous), but I agree with his view that for a Zoo deck full of cards like Knight of the Reliquary, Ranger, Bloodbraid and Putrid Leech you really don’t need cards that are so awful after the first few turns and on mulligans. It’ll be interesting to see which version people gravitate to at the PT.

3. Know yourself, know your deck.

One of the biggest reasons people can’t agree on deck edges is because people have a tendency to overlook early lines of play. As with all things*, one small error at the beginning can come back in a cascade of errors down the line. A good starting place would be the Zoo vs. Fae match-up where the first two turns had a few crucial decisions that would determine how the rest of your deck played out for the rest of the match. There was the obvious way of going all-out and putting the maximum amount of pressure on the table and then there was the more subtle ‘ride Wild Nacatl to victory’ plan. Both had merits, but the latter was overlooked by a lot of people even when 3-4 Engineered Explosives became the norm in Blue decks.

People that had played the Zoo deck a lot and had a good look at its first two turns of play were much better equipped against their opposition without changing a single card. For this Extended season, it’s very possible that relying more on Nacatl is the worse of the routes.

*Seriously, anyone ever watch ‘Seconds from Disaster’ or any shows about engineering disasters? The number of times a huge catastrophe stemmed from one or two small defects / errors cascading is just amazing.

If this Extended season becomes like last season, a good chunk of games will be won and lost purely on match-up experience and tight play. Having a good handle on your deck maximizes your ability to succeed, even if it isn’t the best choice for the tournament. Last season it was very tempting to switch it up due to the high diversity of the metagame, but nothing can replace the sweat and blood approach of putting the testing time in. You just might find out that supposed 4-6 match that’s stopped you from playing the deck is actually even.

4. Never Play Fair

Simple enough rule, but every season people show up with a Bant or Doran type deck with hopes and dreams of beating the field. People love to play fair, whether because the cards are more strategically interesting, they can’t play combo well or just that they dislike Baneslayer Angel. Some tournament players will just naturally gravitate toward decks that play fair with the field and hope to gain small edges from it. Why even show up then?

Look at the control decks I mentioned: they may seem fair, but they have their own game-over marks. Life-gain is fair until you gain 15-21 life every single turn at almost no cost. Counters and small creatures are fair until you realize the deck is essentially one big draw-go deck whose spells double as Umezawa’s Jitte holders. Last season it had an even more powerful plan of setting up a soft-lock after a certain mana and board threshold was crossed.

If we look through tournament history, a simple pattern emerges. Typically the most brutally unfair “Oh the humanity of it all” deck you bring to the table, the better odds you have of winning over the long-term. Sure there are outliers, but in general the unfair decks will win more often than the fair ones.

That’s all on Extended for now, barring some insane breaking of the format. Next week, we’ll have the finished Zendikar set to comb through and some prerelease thoughts.

Josh Silvestri

Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

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