My last primer was written in an uncertain time. There was an Extended rotation coming and no data to base speculation on. This is not to say Extended is the most stable of formats or that the metagame is absolutely defined. It isn’t. Extended does, however, have data from two huge tournaments to its name and a lot of pros who participated in these events writing about their experiences with the format at large. Experience I hope to capitalize on and synthesize for you into this informational brief.
Who’s on First?
The good news about the state of Extended right now is that there are a lot of decks that are not only playable, but good in addition. Because we have such large events to glean data from, we can clearly see the best performing decks in a large pool of players. This data is also confounded, unfortunately, by the fact that many of these players were still playing in a mostly uncertain time. If you listened to or read any Worlds coverage, the overarching theme of most people’s Extended preparation was, “We had no idea what to play and didn’t do as much testing as we did for the other formats.” Seems fair; there is still much to learn from their performance.
From Pro Tour Austin and Worlds, it is safe to say Zoo, control-combo Dark Depths and Tezzerator-Foundry builds, and some form of fast combo are your big decks, even if the latter two are more abstract concepts than actual decklists. Also of merit as a "safe" midrange aggro deck, and I cannot even comprehend actually writing this, is Bant, which may be my favorite deck currently in Extended. Excuse me for a moment as I feel bile is about to shoot out of my eyes and ears.
Beneath the outer layer of the big three-and-sort-of-four are the more metagame decks: All-In Red, Hypergenesis, Scapeshift, Gifts Rock, Next Level/Please Don’t Kill Baneslayer Blue, and a Scapeshift aggro deck I've been calling Cascadeshift. Beneath that are your Red Deck Wins, Affinity, and Rock. Somewhere in there, Faeries had a falling out.
Wait, Faeries is Bad?
As a potential primer for people who haven’t paid attention to Extended since last season, let me tell you, you missed one hell of an upheaval. Faeries, what I would claim was the undisputed king of Extended the previous season, is pig-awful this time around for three reasons:
- Punishing Fire: Rubin Zoo is a nightmare for Blue in general; it combines the paunch of an extremely heavy mid-range Zoo deck, which has a high density of “last unanswered threat is the one that kills you” creatures followed by the inevitability of the Grove of the Burnwillows/Punishing Fire combo. Punishing Fire kills every creature in Faeries dead every time and is then able to clean up an opponent.
- Rotation of Riptide Laboratory: Faeries was able to continue dominating the mid-game for two reasons – control over the creatures that resolved in the early game and a hard lock by recurring Spellstutter Sprite. The former was done though low-cost Engineered Explosives and Control Magic effects, the latter was entirely done through an Onslaught non-basic land. Riptide Lab also gave you combat options (which were aided by the ability to stack damage), protection from removal and a number of other tricks, such as repeated use of Venser, Shaper Savant or bouncing your own Sower of Temptation to take over a bigger or less dead threat on your opponent’s side of the field. Without the unfair advantage of gaining insane mileage from every creature in the deck, Faeries has to play fair… which isn’t good when you’re a tribe that relies on trickery over size.
- You Are Playing 12 Conditional Control Magic Effects: Taking your opponents’ creatures isn’t bad. Taking up most of your deck to do this, however, begs the question of why you’re just not playing better creatures yourself. Couple this with another major problem: the growing inefficiency of the creature-stealing cards. All of Blue’s good Control Magic effects in Extended have some drawback. For Sower, you’re stealing a guy on the hopes that your opponent cannot kill your 2/2 creature (which is laughably impossible in the advent of Punishing Fire), for Vedalken Shackles, getting three Islands into play shouldn’t be much of a chore (which says nothing to the ambiguous size of Knight of the Reliquary or assuring five Islands to answer a Baneslayer Angel), for Threads of Disloyalty, Zoo plays lots of one and two casting cost threats – Tarmogoyf is great (except stealing a Goyf doesn’t really match the previous two threats in lethality). When up to 1/3 of your spells aren’t even effective against the strategy you’re looking to capitalize on, so goes the deck you’ve included those cards in.
Certainly the Wizard-based deck of old is not nearly as effective with most of its best cards no longer legal or functional. But Standard-style Faeries, with Mistbind Clique, looks to potentially capitalize on the change. The new-old Faeries list has quickly become a serious contender where the old-new Faeries' dried out husk collapsed.
That was a Long Aside on Why Faeries Changed; So What Else is Good?
Let’s start with the big guys.
Zoo was the natural evolution of aggro-Red strategies from Boros and Red Deck Wins decks in the age of Pillage and Tangle Wire. Old Red Deck Wins worked around the fact that its creatures were awful because the opponent couldn’t deal with threats and cast their own, confounded further by resource denial and the reach provided by burn.
From this, the reprinting of Kird Ape, the creation of Ravnica dual-lands, and an obscene burn arsenal – with and without Domain spells Gaea’s Might and Tribal Flames – brought Zoo to the tier Red Deck Wins occupied for a considerable amount of time. To make matters better (or worse, depending), the “bad” creatures started getting better: Wild Nacatl replaced the awful that was Scab-Clan Mauler, Lightning Bolt was reprinted, and now Zoo has the ability to play for blinding speed, with more bad but aggressive creatures in the form of Steppe Lynx, or with a smoother curve into must-be-dealt-with threats from Baneslayer Angel and Knight of the Reliquary.
Classic Zoo as played by rainin6 (4-0); Extended Daily #789926 on 12/18/2009
Rubin Zoo as played by Michael Jacob, 6-0; 2009 World Championships, Extended
Rubin Zoo, the deck abusing the latter strategy, is positioned as the “best” of these two Zoo decks, also opting for the Punishing Fire/Grove combo in addition. Rubin Zoo is the deck you need to test for or with and is one of the safest deck choices, as it is both easy to learn and difficult to defeat despite specific hate against it. Zoo is currently the Extended constant and Rubin Zoo is the best of this top deck tier.
I leave the title slightly ambiguous because there are really two decks that occupy this header and I would recommend both to someone playing at an Extended PTQ.
Control-Combo is a fairly new sort of Combo skeleton to Extended. Yeah, you want to explode in your opponent’s face and Win The Game, but the natural weakness to that one card or strategy has been effectively weeded out by melting in cards that protect your choice of win condition. These combo decks are less concerned with winning as early as possible in favor of having that win be inevitable and virtually unassailable.
The first deck is the faster of the two and more combo oriented, the Dark Depths/Vampire Hexmage combo deck:
Dark Depths Combo as played by Chris Black, 4-1-1; 2009 World Championships, Extended
The second Control-Combo deck has a heavier focus on control instead of combo in the form of a mostly-blue Sword of the Meek/Thopter Foundry win in last season’s Tezzerator element. The deck offers a suite of artifacts designed to answer some of the worst offenders in Extended -- Wrath to clean up the board, counters to keep you alive, and then multiple routes of assembling a graveyard Sword and in-play Foundry, be it Tezzeret, the Seeker, Muddle the Mixture, or Gifts Ungiven.
Tezzerator as played by yoel42 (3-1); Extended Daily #789926 on 12/18/2009
Dredge returns this season as “that deck that you’re probably losing to game one and you’d better hope to draw your sideboard cards games two and three.” Rumors of decks like All-In Red, Valakut, and Hypergenesis being dominant are both greatly overblown and incorrect. All decks are somewhat valid, but Dredge is too fast, strong, and not weak to m/any maindecks; any idiot can leave two mana up for a Remand on Hypergenesis or a basic to survive a Blood Moon and Path a Deus of Calamity. In fact, Rubin Zoo and Bant, two pivotal decks in Extended, are almost entirely known for being able to accomplish this. Please send me PMs telling me how awful I am for condescending over the poor quality of these decks.
Dredge operates the same way it always has with the additional twist of enjoying lands in hand/play and using cards that mill its own deck in the absence of cards like Breakthrough and Tolarian Winds. Hedron Crab and Glimpse the Unthinkable are now used in ways that bring unending tears to the eyes of eleven million failed mill deckbuilders. At least you guys still have Archive Trap; Dredge can never take that away from you!
Dredge as played by Christopher Wolf, 5-0-1; 2009 World Championships, Extended
Game one, you Dredge up Bridge from Below and/or a Dread Return to make for crazy Zombie Token or Iona antics. Game two and beyond, you generally morph into the hilarious/awful strategy of beating down with Narcomeoba and Putrid Imp or even trying to mill the hate out of your opponent’s library while carefully setting up your ideal graveyard that won’t randomly be Ravenous Trapped. No, seriously, I’m not making any of this up. You don’t even play a good deck in games two and three and this is still one of the best decks in the format.
Bant is sort of like the Rock if the Rock wasn’t awful and had an actual mid-range game that didn’t rest completely on the back of Doran or some other singular fat dummy. In fact, the deck has an almost seamless transition between control and aggro. Because of my closeted love for the Aggro Control deck, it is possibly my favorite Extended deck at this time. For starters, your curve is almost entirely two mana and that two mana goes the distance. Meddling Mage and Pridemage are two cards permanently entwined in a loving dance, shutting down critical cards in the Extended gamut while they apply incremental damage as your opponent gets socked for 2-3 every turn. Then Goyf comes in and throws a chair.
This is then confounded further when you find the three slot, filled with Rhox War Monk (or, in my imagination pretty much only, Goyfs 5-8 but with Lifelink) and Vendilion Clique, each of which roleplay a way to stem beats damage from Zoo and control whatever your opponent is holding back.
You play the best creature removal spells, Path and the multi-faceted Bant Charm, and supplement these with effective counter magic and Jitte. Everything kind of clicks together like in Faeries but without the “I need all of these pieces to work together or we’re not going anywhere” factor; most all of the cards are just fine on their own, but get so much better when working together. Well, I guess counters and Jitte don’t really win on their own at all. But you know what I mean.
Bant as played by Manuel Bucher, 6-0; 2009 World Championships, Extended
Here Come the Rogue Decks
Maybe it’s not fair to say these decks are rogue so much as a tier below the above decks, which aren’t all entirely tier 1, if sheer numbers and wins are any indication. These decks win sometimes just because a million and one x factors line up and open the gates, especially if they’re unexpected (which I suppose brings us back to rogue status). Here’s looking at you, All-In Red.
All-In Red is not a complex deck, nor has it changed really at all from last season: you play ritual effects and play Blood Moons and 5-mana big Red dudes or Empty the Warrens and blow your opponent out because they fetched a non-Red dual land and have no way to deal with the stuff you just played.
The major flaw in this deck is that everyone is playing at least some basic lands, if only to not turn Ghost Quarter into a Strip Mine and Path to Exile into some kind of best removal spell never seen before. Speaking of which, sometimes you just lose to Path to Exile and that really sucks.
All-In Red as played by Benedikt Klauser, 5-1; 2009 World Championships, Extended
It is rumored that by way of “malarkey” statistics that at least one All-In Red will win a PTQ a season and fill my PM inbox with 10 PMs per top 8 placing decklist.
This is the deck you want to play if you think playing a deck with Progenitus in it is fun, and yes this includes people who play EDH. Play a three casting cost spell with Cascade and you win – that’s as complicated as the deck gets. Generally, you’re playing the same game as All-In Red, but are slightly less vulnerable to disruption because you only need one of your multiple cards with Cascade to go off. The drawback here is your opponent has an obvious telegraph of which spell to counter while you’re going off (Pro Tip: counter the Ardent Plea to prevent your opponent from gaining an Exalted trigger). Many believe the deck is terrible and it really is, but if you’re incredibly anti-social and have no desire to interact with your opponent over eight rounds, you should definitely consider this deck.
Hypergenesis as played by Przemyslaw Nagadowski, 6-0; 2009 World Championships, Extended
You are weak to literally every non-Spell Snare counter commonly played in Extended and also to some, like Remand, that aren’t. If your opponent is awful and plays Spell Pierce, you are weak to it. This deck makes Nix good. You can win without your turn one start, but this just allows your opponent to effectively play an answer. Sometimes you even hand your opponent the win by getting their Baneslayers and the like into play and you just can’t do anything.
Scapeshift is a one card combo, similar in this respect to Hypergenesis. The point is to accelerate out lands with Sakura-Tribe Elder and Coiling Oracle, which also serve as Fog effects, until you can cast Scapeshift for lethal damage by fetching six or more Mountain and a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to deal 18-36+ damage by having the lands enter the battlefield simultaneously.
The deck has some fairly good matchups against popular decks, namely Zoo, but suffers immensely with too many Blue spells in a given field. The major issue with the deck is its poor matchups against non-Zoo decks, particularly the other combo decks in the field that either go off faster and attack through 1/1 chumps or have the counterspells necessary to slow the actual combo to a halt long enough to win with its own cards. Zoo is immensely popular, and Scapeshift capitalizes on this.
Scapeshift as played by JasonA (3-1); Extended Daily #789926 on 12/18/2009
Clearly if you think a local metagame is going to be overwhelmingly Zoo-based, you may be able to Bye your way to the top of a PTQ.
The new kid on the block, Casecadeshift (a name I've invented entirely on my own as I have never seen the deck before its recent string of wins on MODO) takes some acceleration, the Valakut, and Scapeshift of the above named deck, but replaces the Blue cushion protecting your combo with aggressive Green and Red spells and creatures.
The deck has so many routes to victory and it is not easily attacked from any one angle. The Grove/Punishing Fire combo provides an inevitable victory against Blue decks that can counter your Scapeshift. The creatures are mostly all red-zone oriented, with Goyf and Jund backbone Bloodbraid Elf, and even Treetop Village applying constant pressure to your opponent. And on top of this, Scapeshift can win outright with enough lands in play.
Cascadeshift as played by mark the nark (5th Place) Extended PTQ #847957 on 01/10/2010
Although the deck is so new and, as a result, hate is not as rampant, I do like this more than Scapeshift as a deck. Clearly if Control has stuck its thumb in the Combo pie, it's the forward thinking of the Aggro-Combo deck that provides reach in an archetype that may falter or run out of gas.
Next Level Baneslayer:
It is easier to lump Blue-White based control decks together because they’re more often than not interchangeable at this point. Sometimes a Baneslayer deck will have Wraths or not even play Baneslayer (but then you’re usually playing Tezzerator or some other form of Sword/Foundry combo), sometimes you just have minimum board cleaning and counters and “steal your man” effects until Baneslayer resolves and you win.
Protect the Queen! as played by Riccardo Neri, 5-0-1; 2009 World Championships, Extended
Despite the fact that the deck is really linear, I’m a huge fan of the “Resolve Baneslayer, GG” strategy in control decks. Explosives go a long way here and Shackles picks up the slack, doing double time in builds without Wrath. Also, you get to resolve Baneslayer and say Good Game.
Something Something Affinity Mono Red Burn
The rest of the format is bad decks that just win because that’s what they do. Sometimes Affinity draws nuts and you can’t do anything about it. Hellspark Elemental gives Mono Red some level of card advantage you didn’t have in the past because you’re basically just firing off pings at your opponent’s life total. I don’t even know why I bring up old school Rock or Doran, but people are definitely going to play them. Raven’s Crime seems criminally (more like PUNishing Fire, am I right?) slow despite being really awesome; classic Rock and the like lose a lot without the Life from the Loam/Cycling land engine from past seasons.
Burn and Affinity lists haven’t changed at all and you could literally peek your head into the forums to find a current list. I wouldn’t waste your time here because it would take some ridiculous new burn or free Artifact to boost either deck past a stagnant tier two placement. Both show up frequently online, where you cannot see your opponent's pink sleeves or popped collar, but rest assured, they're there.
I couldn’t tell you what a good Rock or Doran deck would look like at this point, though clearly Thoughtseize, removal and Dark Confidant seem like obvious inclusions for either. Each deck has too much self-inflicted damage with its best cards, making the deck egregiously worse than in past seasons where it was okay to deal 10 damage to yourself because the control element still couldn’t take those last points off before they were dead. Maybe the threat density is too high for “play some guys less good than Zoo and removal” to compete when Zoo has the same Path you do. Maybe Doran is making a secret behind-the-scenes comeback, though this is unlikely. If you want to play and build the deck, I do not doubt you will have fun at your PTQ and maybe one or two will place somewhere, but I do not expect it and would not recommend either for the coming PTQ season.
MODO versus Real World PTQs
Data from MODO events shows a heavy bias towards more cost-effective decks in the metagame, making Burn, AIR, Scapeshift, and Zoo major contenders. Scapeshift is probably a MAJOR change in deck-density between real world and online events; the deck is mostly all commons and uncommons, barring your win condition combo and a few Ravnica lands. All-In Red is a bad match for the deck. Affinity also gains ground because it is fast, working well with the MODO timer (and many people already have the cards for it). Does this mean the MODO and real world metagames should look entirely different? Probably not. But maybe yes—Faeries actually placed in the event and the top 8 was noticibly absent the should be common Punishing Fire/Baneslayer combo. But this also may signify new life coming into the potentially prematurely declared dead archetype (do you enjoy that alliteration?).
Worldwake is coming soon after the start of the PTQs. It may threaten to shake everything up as we know it, or maybe just the new Jace and CIBT manlands will be cute in Standard and will have no effect on Extended whatsoever. Smother returning may have a positive effect on Black-based control decks, though Smother does not compare to Path, which has forced decks to build in the ability to take advantage of the drawback just to not be completely blown away by it. Nor does it do anything about mass-tokens or a 20/20 Indestructible in the control-combo decks. As the spoiler season goes on, we’ll begin to see more and more how the new set plays into the current format. For now, though, we have a very lively, varied, and healthy Extended and we can only hope that Worldwake keeps it that way.