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Staring down Extended 2011

January 11, 2011

So… Extended.

As usual the new year kicks off with a new PTQ season with Extended as it’s theme and this year is no different. But boy, Extended is sure a quite different place since the last PTQ season. After the hefty reduction of the number of sets legal in Extended that was made last summer, Extended these days looks more or less like Standard but magnified times 2.

So how is Extended shaping up? It’s true that Extended was played Worlds, but you should consider the results from that tournament near obsolete at this point. Partially because the Extended meta at Worlds is always a little twisted because several players choose their decks depending on how well they need to do during the last day. For example a players who only needs to go like 3-3 might play his or her “safe” deck and not always the deck that person would run normally. But mostly is because how much more time and effort the Magic collective has spent on exploring Extended already compared to a couple of hundred players have for Worlds. The stuff from Worlds is mostly out of date at this point. But we definitely saw some new technology at Worlds that has been absorbed and developed for the current Extended season.

As I’m writing this there are in my eyes 3 archetypes that are currently floating above the rest in both popularity and success; Faeries, Jund and Wargate Valakut. So what I have been doing the recent week is mostly just played a bunch of games with these 3 decks to get a feel for them and a feeling about the format as a whole.

Wargate Valakut

// Lands
4 Flooded Grove
2 Celestial Colonnade
4 Forest
4 Island
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Murmuring Bosk
1 Plains
4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
1 Verdant Catacombs

// Creatures
1 Avenger of Zendikar

// Spells
4 Cryptic Command
3 Mana Leak
1 Negate
2 Day of Judgment
2 Cultivate
4 Explore
4 Rampant Growth
2 Ponder
4 Preordain
4 Prismatic Omen
4 Wargate

// Sideboard
SB: 2 Day of Judgment
SB: 2 Avenger of Zendikar
SB: 2 Sower of Temptation
SB: 2 Sun Titan
SB: 3 Nature’s Claim
SB: 4 Leyline of Sanctity

I started with the “shiny new toy”, Wargate Valakut that the Japanese brought to the world at Worlds (pun intended). It’s basically a new take on an old favorite of mine, Scapeshift.dec. With the Ravnica dual-lands lost to the realms of Legacy, one has to take a different approach to ensure you have enough Mountains in your deck to make the Valakut-kill reliable enough. The approach for this deck is Prismatic Omen, which makes all your lands into Mountains!

While the “tech” of Prismatic Omen isn’t entirely new, Wargate is and it’s that card that makes the deck really consistent. Wargate is basically a Demonic Tutor plus in this deck, both searching out AND lays whatever piece of your combo you are missing onto the battlefield. And this shell also gets to play with Cryptic Command, which is the single best card in Extended. Yes, that’s the way it is.

The deck is very powerful and the kill is very reliable. It’s so reliable that the number of actual Scapeshifts has over time decreased in numbers, until a point where several players has discarded them completely. You see, Prismatic Omen is more or less a Bitterblossom in this deck. You just eventually kill them by making your land drops.

But personally I’m not sold yet. While (still) I love the Valakut engine, the mana in the deck doesn’t really work unless you have a Prismatic Omen already in play. Playing spells that cost UGW, 1UUU and 2WW is pretty tricky considering that 4 of your lands are Valakuts, which doesn’t help you at all in casting neither. Valakut is almost like a spell in the deck, as playing it on turn 1 often is a mistake. Not only are you leaving it open to nasty stuff your opponent wants to do with it, but it’s difficult to curve out with your spells.

Also the deck is more vulnerable to land destruction than previous versions, particularly when you cut down on those Scapeshifts. The number of Tectonic Edge and Fulminator Mages in the format is going up by the day which is bad new for this deck. Having guys in the board and/or main helps though, and the next level tech might be starting to running some number of Scapeshifts again since when you have Scapeshift you don’t really care what lands you have in play. As long as you have 6+ random lands in play along with Prismatic Omen you are golden.

As I said, right now I’m letting this deck slide. The goofy manabase bugs me a lot since consistency is one of the things I value the most when I pick decks for constructed. I can’t deny power of the deck thought and I won’t be surprised if I will get back to this deck in a couple of weeks.

Jund

// Lands
4 Savage Lands
4 Raging Ravine
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Twilight Mire
1 Swamp
1 Mountain
2 Fire-Lit Thicket
2 Copperline Gorge
3 Reflecting Pool

// Creatures
4 Demigod of Revenge
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Putrid Leech
3 Fauna Shaman
3 Anathemancer
1 Shriekmaw

// Spells
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Thoughtseize
4 Maelstrom Pulse

// Sideboard
SB: 4 Volcanic Fallout
SB: 4 Great Sable Stag
SB: 3 Nature’s Claim
SB: 4 Deathmark

“Jund” is a name that most people feel a shiver about when they hear it these days. While the deck is a bit different since it’s bogeyman days in Standard and certainly not as dominant compared to the rest of the field, the essence of unfairness that Jund represents is still there.

I don’t have that much to say about the cards in the deck, you pretty much run the best cards in these colors. The recent inclusion of Fauna Shaman in the deck is a really strong one and I’m big fan of that cards in this deck. Chaining Demigod of Revenge is pretty absurd against any deck and fetching a Anathemancer in the late game can spell the doom against a lot of decks. A lot of lists I see people running Blightning in the slot where I have the Thoughtseizes. I think Blightning is a bit to slow for Extended and outright dangerous in some match ups, like the mirror. Discard Demigod of Revenge? Don’t mind if I do! The lifeloss of Thoughtseize and Putrid Leech is a little annoying, but often not relevant and it gets offset-ed by Kitchen Finks. Also most of the time in the match ups where the lifeloss is relevant you board it out. Getting the mana right is tricky. I’m positive that a better manabase then the one above has can be built, but I think the list above has a better manabase than several other attempts I have seen. Basic Forest makes me puke…

And what can I say about how the deck performed? Jund is really strong. When I have played this deck during last week I felt like I could win against any deck I have faced so far. I say “could” since the flaw of the deck is a like with the issues I had with Wargate Valakut. The mana.

It’s particularly noticeable in the tight match ups where every single move counts, like versus Faeries or the upcoming Naya deck. I feel like I would win most games if I could play the stuff I had in my hand on time. You lose games where you couldn’t play that Lightning Bolt on turn 1 or your 4th land drop came into play tapped and suddenly you lost all your momentum in the game. Stuff like that adds up and ends ups a lot of times being the difference between winning and loosing a game. And that is just the built in problems the deck has, I haven’t included the problems with Fulminator Mages and Tectonic Edges… and heck, Spreading Seas.

I heard the argument that Jund has these problems when it was legal in Standard and yet it did very well. It’s true, but one has to also consider that it was not only Jund who had these mana problem. Right about every deck had similar issues back then. Now in modern Extended peoples mana is much more stable and the decks are quicker and more streamlined. Also the stuff that Jund doesn’t isn’t as powerful compared the rest of the format now compared to back then.

So all in all, I’m giving Jund the nod of respect for it’s power level but I hope I can stay away from the deck because of the same reasons with Wargate Valakut. Moving on.

Faeries

// Lands
4 Mutavault
4 Secluded Glen
4 Darkslick Shores
4 Sunken Ruins
3 Creeping Tar Pit
2 Swamp
5 Island

// Creatures
3 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Vendilion Clique
4 Mistbind Clique
2 Scion of Oona

// Spells
4 Bitterblossom
4 Cryptic Command
3 Mana Leak
2 Disfigure
3 Grasp of Darkness
3 Thoughtseize
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Jace Beleren

// Sideboard
SB: 3 Wall of Tanglecord
SB: 2 Wurmcoil Engine
SB: 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
SB: 2 Sower of Temptation

Ah, the real ghost of christmas past. Not too surprisingly that the 2 most dominant decks of  old Standard formats are kings in Extended. After playing Faeries last week I have to say that I’m very impressed.

Almost every deck list of Faeries I have seen so far has been unique based on the players playing style and opinion on several cards. So this is my current take of Faeries. I haven’t played enough yet to fill the sideboard, but I know that if I would play Faeries in a tournament tomorrow I would want those cards there. The list is fairly stock-ish thought. 26 lands is becoming the norm and I once I went from 25 till 26, I haven’t wanted to go back to 25 even once. Even with 26 lands you are still more concerned about stalling on lands than flooding out.

The “tech” of running Grasp of Darkness is no longer brand new, but I have been advocating my friends to play that card in the removal slot even before Worlds. It’s a bit difficult to cast with the BB casting cost, but the fact that it’s the cmc 2 removal spell that kills most things in the format outweighs that problem. The debate of Scion of Oona or not has been hefty. I don’t mind playing some, but I wouldn’t play 4 and 3 is probably too much as well. Cutting them altogether isn’t out of the question either. Little Jace has been good to but it’s place in the deck isn’t set in stone either. I like more than big Jace in the main though, since the cheaper casting cost is a big deal for Faeries.

One of the “new” cards that I saw people playing at Worlds that I was most impressed about was Wall of Tanglecord. Laugh if you want, but this card does some serious work for Faeries. A 2-mana card that shuts down a Great Sable Stag or Vengevine is like exactly what the doctor ordered. Another option I have seen players with is Consume the Meek, which also deals with GSS. It doesn’t however deal with Vengevine, which my danish opponent in the team competition at Worlds had to suffer from.

And how good is Faeries? It’s really, really good. Faeries is the deck I have been most impressed with so far in my post Worlds Extended experience. It’s the #1 deck to beat right now and rightly so. The only flaw I felt playing Faeries is that the mirror is still kinda awkward (although it has gotten better with the addition of Creeping Tar Pit and more Jaces) and it’s the deck with the biggest target on it’s forehead. But after I won a game yesterday where my opponent played 3 Great Sable Stag (and I Inquisitioned away the 4th one) and 2 Volcanic Fallout I felt invincible. Or more rightly so, Faeries is all that.

If I would play a tournament of Extended tomorrow, I would play Faeries. But I don’t think Faeries is the only truth for Extended. The deck is still kind of awkward when you don’t have Bitterblossom and there is only a finite amount of Great Sable Stag, Vengevine and Volcanic Fallout you can beat. No matter of what deck you choose to run for Extended, play the most matches against Faeries. Not only because it’s the current #1 deck , but mostly because Faeries is a really tricky deck to play AND play against. You can avoid a lot of holes by having a lot of experience of playing against Faeries. It was something I learned during the winter and spring of 2009.

For the future…

With that said, is there anything new or not currently not so popular I think is worth to pay attention for? It’s maybe not exactly the right time for the two decks I have in mind right now but I have been working on them a bit and I think it’s very possible that might be a place for them in Extended. The archetypes I have in mind are Merfolks and Elves.

Merfolks is an archetype that was quite popular before Worlds, but didn’t really show up at Worlds and we in the Swedish crew almost completely discarded the deck since it didn’t win against Elves. But Elves isn’t very popular right now so that’s not a problem. Merfolks has also been for the longest time described as a “bad Faerie deck”. I don’t agree with that statement since while both are blue based aggressive decks, the accompanying color means a lot of in several match ups. The white cards (for example Burrenton Forge-Tender, Reveillark and Path to Exile) are really strong ways to deal with the ways that people normally use to fight Faeries, red based strategies and Great Sable Stag / Vengevine. In the white cards you also get ways to tick enchantments of the board. Bitterblossom, Prismatic Omen and Pyromancer Ascension comes to mind… The point I’m driving at is that Merfolks might have something relevant that Faeries don’t.

Also another card that I have been pondering about when configuring Merfolks is Spreading Seas. Consider on how greedy people are in general with their mana in Extended, I’m getting more intrigued about that card by the day. You remember how annoying it was to have your Savage Land enchanted by Spreading Seas? Well, try cast those Demigod of Revenge now!

And then we have Elves. I haven’t been tinkering with this deck much but I’m making this statement on the back off that people are playing GW Hideaway, Fauna Shaman Naya and the Ooze deck and doing okay. All these deck are really quite similar to Elves in their structure but have different ways to execute their kill. And in my mind they are just worse Elf decks. If the number of Reflecting Pool control in the meta continue to dwindle, you might see me returning to casting small green men.

Conclusion

Extended is shaping out to be a really cool format if you ask me. It’s very rooted from old Standard decks, but I’m cool with that since I do love me some Standard. But even so, there are definitely room for new innovation. The Wargate Valakut decks is a testament to that. And even if Faeries is looking pretty darn good right now, I feel like that is not necessarily how this Extended season is going to end.

Bernhard over and out.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. skeeter_eater permalink
    January 11, 2011 21:36

    I like the article. Decent outline of the big 3 right now.
    I don’t agree with Spreading Seas vs Jund. As a Jund player I am glad to have you lose a turn to give me an island since basically all my lands are multicolored and I have 26 of em. That card has never really scared me.
    Thumbs up on the article.

    • balthazar88 permalink*
      January 11, 2011 22:57

      Thanks for the response!

      I guess we disagree then. I played Jund a ton in old Standard and there Spreading Seas was quite annoying to face, and the demand on the Jund manabase haven’t exactly gone down with the Extended version.

      The beauty with the card Spreading Seas is also that you aren’t really sacrificing much either by playing one. It replaces itself and it might completely shut down the opponent for several turns. And you can also consider it a removal spell in the match up as well, as it practically kills an Raging Ravine…and cantrips!

  2. January 12, 2011 02:39

    this is a hot game great review

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