A “New” Format attacked by the Pros
Innovation, Strategy, and Controversy
Innovation, Strategy, and Controversy
Last weekend in Los Angeles, Pro Tour players got their first shot at the post-rotation Extended format. What resulted was a Pro Tour that surely ranks among the most interesting and entertaining Pro Tours of all time.
I.Before the Tournament: What was expected in Pro Tour L.A.
The “new Extended” was an environment that had only been played seriously on the evil world of MODO (Magic Online). Sure, an Extended without Rath, Urza, and Masques blocks was played in the Magic invitational for the last few years, but the pros usually just brought a block deck like Affinity or Goblins to that event anyway (An exception was Battle of Wits, which seemed to pop up occasionally in invitationals and didn’t do half bad).
As such, before the tournament, what the general public knew of the format was limited to strategy articles and MODO results. The MODO results showed the power of Balancing Tings, a deck that used the Invasion sac lands like Archeological Dig to set up a powerful Balancing Act or Obliterate, following it up with Nimble Mongoose, Anurid Brushhopper, or Terravore for the win. Strategy articles showed the abilities of all the decks that were in the “predicted” metagame, and showed the results of each against the others. No strategy articles were counting Affinity and Goblins out of the picture. After all, Goblins were good in Columbus without AEther Vial as Olivier Ruel made Top 8 with them. And of course Affinity was always amazingly fast. So the articles that came out Pre-L.A. seemed to predict a metagame dominated by Affinity, Goblins, NO-Stick, Psychatog splashing Green for Deed, Rock with Red/White splashes, Madness with Red splash, Balancing Tings, and Domain decks.
On Friday of the Pro Tour, BDM’s article explained the powerful Dredge-a-Tog deck’s success in the GP Trial in London. Still, no one seemed to catch on to the foreshadowing these results would have in this weekend!
II. The Tournament itself: Loaming and Dredging
The tournament started out looking like we thought it would. Olivier Ruel was playing Erayo-Affinity. Masashi Oiso and Gabriel Nassif were playing Balancing Tings. Osyp was playing Goblins. Antoine Ruel was playing classic UB Tog. Ryuichi Arita was playing NO-stick.
But soon it became apparent that new deck creations had sprouted up to challenge the predicted gauntlet. Itaru Ishida created a Dredge-a-Tog deck similar to the one previewed by BDM and he and multiple other Japanese players such as Kenji Tsumura were playing it. It used the draw engine of Life from the Loam and Cycling lands to increase the ease of setting up a lethal Tog similar to the Gush-A-Tog decks of last year. Furthermore, in a long game, the draw engine allowed the Dredge-A-Tog player to control the board due to massive card advantage. Of course, in order to get the dredge engine online, Gifts Ungiven is used to search for the 1-of key components. However, unlike a traditional Psychatog deck, the deck had no card drawing other than the engine and the Gifts.
Other players besides the Japanese had come to a similar conclusion and had similar decks as well, such as Jeroen Remie and Neil Reeves.
Similar to the Dredge-A-Tog decks were the Madness-Tog combinations that were rather successful in the tournament. One such deck was the result of a combination of Belgians Geoffrey Siron Bernardo Da Costa Cabral and Brit Craig Jones. This Troll-a-Tog deck used Golgari Grave-Troll with its Dredge 6 to quickly pile cards into the graveyard. This deck also used the Life from the Loam/cycling lands engine to create even more card advantage. The deck could win as quickly as turn 3, a feat previously unheard of by a Tog deck. Mongrel and Tog combined to throw the Grave Troll to the bin, where it dredged up a storm of cards to quickly pound on an opponent. Wonder and Brawn (Yes, Brawn) would very often be in one of those graveyards, allowing the player to pound through any potential blockers. In worst case scenario, Grave-Trolls themselves could beat down on the opponent.
Little-known fact: the editor
has a soft spot for this card.
Another combination of Madness and Tog was played by William Moreno. Moreno’s deck was more similar to a Madness deck, but included Psychatog and of course Life from the Loam. Still, Moreno only had one cycling land (his 61st card) but could combine the powerful Ravnica card with Cephalid Coliseum for powerful results.
Of course, Mind’s Desire was one of the few combo decks in the old Extended whose namesake didn’t rotate out. Unfortunately, the free Urza spells and Sapphire Medallion did. So, it occurred to many people to use the combo of Early Harvest and Heartbeat of Spring to raise storm count and mana. Many people piloted this deck, but few were successful. One person who was successful was Chris McDaniel, AKA Star Wars Kid. His very powerful deck combined with tight solid play merited him major results. Still this deck is not an easy deck to play, and requires great skill.
A final unexpected deck of note was a WR weenie deck, also known as Boros Deck Wins. Taking the Red Deck Wins from old Extended and branching into White brought out Goblin Legionnaire and Lightning Helix. Tsuyoshi Fujita’s version of the deck, also piloted by Shuuhei Nakamura, was especially impressive during the Swiss, showcasing 8 LD spells to replace the land disruption of Wasteland and Rishadan Port. It also has Blood Moon in the sideboard, which is especially devastating in the format. Still multiple others piloted similar decks, leading to 3 WR players in the T8!
In the end, both the Tog Decks and RW decks ripped through the field. The T8 consisted of UB Classic Tog (Antoine Ruel), UBG Dredge-A-Tog (Kenji Tsumura), Madness Tog (William Moreno), Boros Deck Wins (Tsuyoshi Fujita), Red (splashing White) Deck Wins (Chih-Hsiang Chang), PT Jank (RW deck wins: Ervin Tormos), NO-Stick (Ryuichi Arita), and Desire-Heartbeat (Chris McDaniel/Star Wars Kid). As you can see, only two of the decks easy to spot before the tournament (NO-stick and Classic Tog) made the T8. Furthermore, no Goblins or Affinity made the T8. It is of note that all 3 Troll-a-Tog decks managed top 64 finishes with Da Costa Cabral finishing 13th, Craig Jones finishing 30th, and Geoffrey Siron finishing 58th.
In the end, Antoine Ruel piloted classic Tog to the finals, where he beat William Moreno’s Madness Tog to win PT LA!
III. Analysis of the Field or Which decks are viable for PTQ season?
With so many decks being played in LA it’s hard to tell which ones are worthy of further playing. So let’s go through each deck and analyze their performance and see if they are viable for the upcoming season.
Deck #1. Goblins
Results in LA: 0 goblins in T32, Only 7 of 37 made Day 2!
Current Status: Not viable unless there's a major metagame shift.
Thoughts: Goblins lost Aether Vial to the bannings, but they didn’t have Vial when Oliver Ruel made T4 last year at Columbus. So, you’d think they’d still do pretty well. Uh, NOPE! So the question is why. First of all, Goblins lost a powerful land disruption card in Rishadan Port. While Fujita adapted his RDW deck with LD to make up for this, the Goblin players did not. Furthermore, a Black splash for Patriarch’s Bidding and Cabal Therapy is no longer as effective, since combo decks have dropped in popularity (and the only seemingly viable one, Heartbeat-Desire, has Moment’s Peace that can be used in the yard to slow Goblins down). Meanwhile, the other decks in the format are making great use of new Ravnica lands to play more creature control elements. Goblins' long game strategy consists of Bidding and that spell can easily be countered by the numerous control decks. If Goblins is to become viable, I predict a G and B splash to be used to acquire Putrefy and some other control maindeck. However, even this may not work, as the strategy of “throw green men down and bash” no longer is effective.
Deck #2. Affinity (With and without Bob or Erayo)
Results in LA: 2 in Top 32 (Olivier Ruel in 11th and Akihiro Kawamura in 21st) and 19 of 48 total decks making Day 2.
Current Status: tier 2 in current metagame but could improve to tier 1 with small metagame shift.
Thoughts: The banning of Aether Vial and Disciple seriously hurt Affinity. Still, Olivier Ruel managed to make 11th place with an Erayo version of the deck. Unfortunately, that’s the best it got for Affinity players. The RW players had Kataki, War's Wage ready to crush Affinity single-handedly and other decks were able to splash it due to the Shock-lands. Meanwhile, Itaru Ishida’s Dredge-a-Tog deck was tuned expecting a HIGHER quantity of Affinity and thus had maindeck Oxidize and Last Gasp (instead of Smother, which won’t kill a Frogmite). As PTQ season begins, RW will be a prominent deck due to its ease to put together and thus the Katakis will only increase. Future Dredge-a-Tog decks, another probable favorite at PTQs, will have less artifact-hate in them than in Ishida’s list but still will pose a problem. Ruel did show that Affinity can place and survive through the hate somewhat, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Affinity make a few top 8s. However, as long as RW decks remain popular, it will remain Tier 2. Then again, Affinity's early success last year was due to an extremely unprepared field. If Affinity's absence from high-level tournaments becomes a reliable constant, the deck could be poised for a comeback.
Deck #3. Balancing Tings
Results in LA: Two in top 32 (Nassif in 12th, Oiso in 25th) and 6 of 15 total decks making Day 2.
Current Status: Not viable in a metagame with a lot of Dredge-a Tog, tier 2 in environment with more classic Tog than dredge variety.
Thoughts: One of the biggest disappointments in LA was the results of the Balancing Tings decks. Gabriel Nassif’s deck, which included Life from the Loam, and Masashi Oiso’s deck, which didn’t include the Ravnica card, were the only 2 in the top 32. And even these two decks only made such high finishes thanks to the fact that the Dredge-a-Tog decks were all playing in higher tables than their own. The power of Obliterate vs. Tog is severely weakened when the opponent has LFTL ( Life from the Loam ) in his deck to recoup his lands pretty quickly. Depending on whether your local metagame features the dredge version of Tog or the standard version, this deck may or may not be viable. Even so, it may never be better than Tier 2 with this metagame.
Deck #4. The Rock (Including Macey Rock and splashes, not iincluding Togs.)
Results in LA: 4 in T32 (14th,17th,23th,31th)
Current Status: tier 1.5, a very viable deck with multiple different builds.
Thoughts: No deck besides Tog can be taken so many different ways and still be powerful like The Rock (I’d like to take this time to point out it ISN’T the Rock without the Plaguelord, but whatever...). Raphael Levy took a powerful-looking Macey Rock Deck to 14th place after going 7-1 in day 1. Jeff Novekoff took his Red-Rock deck with a Living Wish sideboard to 31st place after going 7-0-1 in day 1. Two other players managed high T32 finishes in between with a Gifts-Rock concoction. Both Novekoff’s and Levy’s decks are probably able to compete fairly well in the PTQs as they are, with slight minor changes. The Gifts Rock decks could probably benefit from adding the LFTL engine to their decks to increase control over the long game. Still, one wonders whether the Gifts Rock decks would be better off converting to the evil Togs. Still, the deck’s power isn’t quite up to speed with the Tog decks, and since Troll-a-Tog is just able to keep recurring Grave-Trolls to kill Rock fairly easily it seems that the Rock is a tier 1.5 competitor.
Deck #5. NO Stick/Scepter-Chant.
Results in LA: 1 in T8, 2 others in T32, 12 of 18 total decks making day 2.
Current Status: tier 1
Thoughts: NO-Stick is one of the few decks from last year to still be viable with very few actual changes. With Affinity clearly weaker and much Affinity hate (like Oxidize) probably going to leave some sideboards, the deck only gets better. Furthermore, even without the stick in play, NO stick can play the game of a UW control deck. It was widely believed that Arita should’ve beaten Kenji Tsumura’s Dredge-a-tog deck in the top 8 if he had played the deck differently (Arita tried countering spells like Cunning Wish instead of countering key spells like Gifts Ungiven and Tog, since Tsumura had little draw engine without LFTL, and couldn’t get that reliably without Gifts). The deck has good game vs. Dredge-a-Tog as well as pure aggro decks and combo decks. The only problem with the deck during PTQ season is that its games go long enough that one game may be all you are able to get in during a round.
Deck #6. RW weenie (Boros Deck wins, Red deck wins with w splash, and PT jank)
Results in LA: 5th, 6th, 7th, and 3 more in T32. 11 of 19 made day 2.
Current Status: tier 1.
Thoughts: Wow. This is an impressive concoction that had an amazing finish at PT LA. The decks work like Red Deck Wins used to, but uses White and Boros to replace missing cards. Furthermore, the deck adds Pillage and sometimes (in the case of Fujita’s version) Molten Rain, which can provide valuable land destruction. One player, Chih-Hsiang Chang, made the T8 using a more burn-heavy version of the deck. This version included Char, Firebolt, Lava Dart, Magma Jet, and Lightning Helix, 16 burn spells in all. Considering the great amount of damage each deck does to itself with all the damaging lands in decks like Madness-Tog (Where Moreno fell to 2 and 4 in consecutive games with SWK, WITHOUT once being damaged by a source of SWK!), this route may in fact be more successful than Fujita’s RDWish route. Nevertheless, both versions of this deck are certainly tier 1.
Deck #7. Heartbeat Desire (Heartbeat combo decks w/o Desire counted also)
Results in LA: 4th place, 2 of 17 total decks made it to day 2.
Current Status: tier 1, tier 1.5, or tier 2 (I’ll explain this in a moment, give me a second….)
Thoughts: I know you’re wondering what I’m thinking. How can a deck be tier 1, tier 1.5, or tier 2? Well, this deck can be any of the three depending on the metagame reaction to Star Wars Kid’s run at the Pro Tour. You see, SWK was one of only 2 of 17 to make day 2 with the deck. On Day 2 and the last 2 rounds of Day 1, SWK played only one Dredge-a-Tog deck and 1 Scepter deck and the rest decks like Affinity and Boros Deck Wins. SWK’s deck has a good matchup for sure against Affinity and BDW, but its match against Dredge and Scepter are much much closer. Granted, he won both of those matches, but in the T8 we did see him have trouble with Moreno’s deck. What is interesting to note is that SWK should’ve beat Moreno (More on that later), but probably would lose quickly to Antoine’s Classic Tog permission. So, not only is SWK’s deck performance possibly a fluke, but also depending on the amount of Tog and BDW decks that is played in the future Extended metagame. Personally, I believe that the deck is for real, and that will be around Tier 1.5. This is because that while the deck is very good and powerful, the deck takes a ton of practice and skill to play correctly and that Tog will definitely be a popular deck to play in the PTQs.
Decks #8 UG Madness
Thoughts: Hmmm without Tog, this deck did terrible and has no substance whatsoever. Don’t play UG Madness without Tog. If you play Madness with Tog, the deck is no longer UG madness, but is instead……..
REAL Deck #8. Madness-Tog
Results: Moreno piloted the only copy of the deck into 2nd place.
Current Status: tier 1.
Thoughts: What lack of skill Moreno showed in the T8, he showed in the deck he created, the powerful fusion of Madness and Tog. Whereas the other fusion of Madness and Tog, the Troll-A-Tog deck piloted by the Belgians and Craig Jones, leaves out the Madness cards, Moreno kept in the Madness cards like Basking Rootwalla and Arrogant Wurm and added Darkblast, Tog, 1 Life from the Loam, 2 Gifts Ungiven, Cephalid Coliseum, and Centaur Garden. The Coliseum + Life from the Loam presents a drawing engine even more powerful than Cycling lands plus LFTL.
Incidentally, I actually have a couple of suggestions to anyone who wanted to run this deck.
What did I do? I removed the Merfolk Looter and the Chrome Mox from the deck, as well as a Lonely Sandbar and an Island. I then added a Cephalid Coliseum, a Life from the Loam, and 2 more Gifts Ungiven. Finally, I completed the playset of Umezawa’s Jitte. Why? First the Looter and the Moxen were completely non-essential cards in the deck that were simply discarded most often rather than being played by Moreno. Second, the added Colliseum and Life from the Loam allow the deck to get its drawing engine online in case its Gifts engine is countered. Furthermore, I increased the amount of Gifts so that the engine would be easier to get off. The increase in Umezawa’s Jittes makes the deck more powerful and furthermore, the deck now has an even 60 cards. In the sideboard, Putrefy replaces Naturalize since it can kill Meloku as well as artifacts; Meloku is a major problem for this deck. If I were to run this deck in the PTQs, this would be the list I’d run.
Deck #9. Troll-A-Tog
Results: 13th, 30th, and 58th
Current Status: tier 1.
Thoughts: Troll-A-Tog is an example of an aggro/control deck with a possibility of a combo-like early game kill, and a great early and long game even if the quick kill doesn’t present itself. In an interesting twist, the deck runs more cycling lands and LFTLs than the other dredge engine decks so that it is able to achieve its engine faster and without needing the help of Gifts Ungiven. The deck is less vulnerable to Meloku than Madness Tog, and still has the powerful Wild Mongrel for a backup power creature. This is the one deck I noticed that probably could use the Chrome Moxen as opposed to it being a “win-more” card. With a better game vs. classic Tog builds than the other two dredge variants due to a pressuring early game, threats that don’t stay dead (Golgari Grave-Troll), and an engine that can come online quicker and easier that is resistant to counters.
Deck #10. Dredge-a-Tog
Results: 3rd place and 6 of 14 total decks made day 2.
Current Status: tier 1
Thoughts: Dredge-a-Tog is a deck that will eventually have a large showing at the PTQs. It may not have such a showing at first due to a misunderstanding that Classic Tog is better than Dredge-a-Tog. The misunderstanding stems from the fact that Classic Tog does indeed win the mirror. However, with the removal of Last Gasp and Oxidize from Ishida’s list, a Dredge-a-Tog player could add LFTL to the deck or more card draw to enable him to regain the card advantage lost in the Tog mirror. The deck does have great game vs. Boros Deck Wins and thus should be a solid choice for the PTQ season.
Deck #11 Classic Psychatog
Results: 1st place at PT LA and 3 of 9 total decks making day 2.
Current Status: tier 1
Thoughts: Classic Psychatog has a good matchup v Boros Deck Wins and Dredge-a-Tog as well as a solid matchup vs. Heartbeat Desire. Given the definite increase in popularity of these decks, it is certainly a solid answer to the metagame. The weakest link in the deck is its weakness to Balancing Tings (where Obliterate can spell game). This weakness will probably only be a problem in the early PTQ season when Tings will still be played by some hopeful players. As the season goes on, Tings will probably disappear and this deck should only gain in momentum.
IV. A disgusting controversy visible to anyone who watched the webcast.
Pro Tour LA featured podcasts throughout the weekend and a live streaming webcast. All of these coverage features were produced fantastically. But as hundreds of viewers watched live, a ridiculous controversy occurred in the semifinals, which called into question the integrity of the Pro Tour.
In his semi final match against Chris McDaniel (AKA the Star Wars Kid or SWK), William Moreno fought back to force a game five. In his 3rd turn, SWK threw down a Heartbeat of Spring. Moreno played a Yavimaya Coast, making his board consist of Yavimaya Coast, Cephalid Coliseum (no threshold), and an untapped Overgrown Tomb. He tapped all 3 lands, didn’t say anything, and played Psychatog and said go. This should’ve left him with 3 mana in his mana pool and should have caused him to mana burn. Instead the table judge let Moreno rewind back to the phase in which he played the Tog and use the mana he had left. This development wouldn’t have happened if the table judge wasn’t there and could’ve turned out to be relevant if, as in previous games, Moreno had gone down to 2 or 4 life from damage to himself. Moreno would repeat this mana burn mistake the next turn, and once again the table judge would alert him to it.
It is interesting to note that in Pro Tour Philadelphia, Ryan Cimera was playing Kenji Tsumera in the Quarterfinals and a similar situation occured. In that situation, Cimera was forced to mana burn accidentally. It is because of this situation that the judge's response to Moreno's error is so inappropriate, since in the past the opposite ruling was used.
But the worse controversy happened later in the game. In his haste, Moreno activated his Cephalid Coliseum, sacrificing it and drawing 3 cards. It was then that the table judge realized… Moreno didn’t have threshold yet! The normal penalty for such a mistake was a game loss, which would’ve given the match to SWK. But the Judges decided since the cameras caught which cards were drawn to shuffle the deck and set back the game state to before he activated the Coliseum. This decision was horrendous. There was a time in the history of the Pro Tour where a person being disqualified or getting game losses in a T8 were not unheard of. But in the age of the webcast, the judges were swayed by the feeling that the games in the T8 should be played out, and not won or lost on a player's remembering of the rules. Fortunately for the Pro Tour and its integrity, Moreno got swept by Antoine Ruel next round.
So in recap, congratulations to Antoine Ruel for winning and congrats to Wizards for a mostly beautiful presentation of a great Pro Tour. You kept it interesting throughout the weekend, and this Extended season looks to be fascinating beyond compare.