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The letter I!et's begin today's article with a brief story about sickestever.dec.

If you have never heard of sickestever.dec, it was an Extended deck (originally a .dec file, actually) that originated on Ben Rubin's computer and found its way as a pile of 75 cards in front of Dragonmaster Brian Kibler. The deck was an upgrade to an existing popular—and very good—2001 era Extended deck, but with a few twists. In lieu of a Curiosity-based card drawing scheme, Rubin added Meddling Mage out of nowhere, and the white splash grafted onto a formerly nonwhite creature deck allowed Kibler the opportunity to play Mystic Enforcer, a 6/6. Though it was not a Dragon proper, Kibler embraced the Mystic Enforcer as a large flying creature, and happily played sickestever.dec to a profound Grand Prix finish, where he and Rubin both made Top 8.

The joke was, the deck really was the sickest ever .... It felled control and combo decks left and right, and not even Bob Maher behind the beatdown Red Deck could stop sickestever.dec. The only thing that kept Ben out of the Finals was the fact that he got paired against Kibs.

Despite coming in a heavy fan favorite, Brian lost in the Finals of Grand Prix–Houston 2002.

When Rubin added Meddling Mage to an existing and popular—and already very good—Extended deck, married a large non-Dragon flyer to the same, and used it to help position Brian in the Finals of a big event, Kibler stepped up the next time around, which is how we come to have this as our Pro Tour–Austin-winning deck:


"Rubin Zoo" as it has been called is quite an inventive take on a perennial Extended favorite.

Despite having many of the hallmarks of the classic (that is classic Extended) Zoo deck, this one has many quirks and unique elements that differentiate it from the rest of the field.

Punishing Fire + Grove of the Burnwillows

The most important differentiating factor is this sick little card advantage engine. Most Zoo decks have no card advantage engine at all! But when combined with Grove of the Burnwillows, Punishing Fire is like a Kindle attached to Squee, Goblin Nabob. That is, it is absolute card advantage doom to many a mage. A blue deck trying to kill you with Vendilion Clique has essentially no chance if you draw this combination of cards .... The ability to play Bolt after Bolt is unending. The advantage in creature-on-creature matches is much the same. Rubin Zoo has no Goblin Guides or Hounds of Konda ... Those little creatures get torn to shreds by Punishing Fire and anything. Kibler even pointed out that you can Fire a Tarmogoyf in the early stages, then pick up your Punishing Fire; the Tarmogoyf might just die if there are no other instants!

Now to fit this combination, Ben and Brian had to kill some darlings .... As you can see, Brian played only two Lightning Helixes in his deck, tantamount to Zoo heresy! And then you realize there are no Kird Apes in this deck, either. In fact, to add Punishing Fire and a slightly heavier mana base, the re-formed Underground allocated not just more land (Ben's fellow Hall of Fame member Rob Dougherty—who had a fine weekend himself, finishing outside the Top 8 on tiebreakers—played only 20 lands in his Zoo deck), but Noble Hierarch.


Kibler joked that Noble Hierarch was the best creature in his deck, and Ben played all four, cutting down to one Helix.

So what do you do with all that mana?

Other than having some stray red mana to re-buy Punishing Fire, you cast Baneslayer Angels! Here is an extremely powerful large creature, the defining offensive and defensive staple of the last several months' worth of Standard, making a superb first appearance in an Extended Pro Tour. In addition, first-turn Noble Hierarch can give you some interesting second-turn plays. Consider ...

Knight of the Reliquary: A second-turn Knight of the Reliquary can be quite troublesome. Not only is this an ever-increasing threat due to the presence of so many Arid Mesas and Misty Rainforests, but the Knight can set up cards like Ghost Quarter or Treetop Village.

Blood Moon: A powerhouse sideboard card, Blood Moon can turn the format's most specialized super-lands into basic Mountains, and render the Hypergenesis Cascade deck completely unable to play spells!

More Zoo Decks...

Tsuyoshi Ikeda's Spectral Zoo
Extended - Finalist, Pro Tour–Austin


We know that Tarmogoyf is the most efficient offensive two-drop in the Extended Zoo deck, and everyone is playing Wild Nacatl even if some have cut Kird Ape and most have gone away from Isamaru, Hound of Konda and Mogg Fanatic on one mana ... but what is the most effective three-mana threat?

Knight of the Reliquary was played in three of the four Top 8 Zoo decks ... but what do you think of Tsuyoshi Ikeda's Spectral Processions? The former best card in Standard (contested!) makes an efficient appearance here. Three mana for 3 power, plus flying .... Certainly a good Jitte option.

Tsuyoshi's main deck was relatively straightforward—we will see Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, and Path to Exile across most versions of this deck—but his sideboard is full of inventive and relatively unique card choices that you may not have seen in a while, if ever.


Flashfires: It might seem silly to see this card in a deck with Plains, Sacred Foundry, and Temple Garden all, but consider the problem of not having Flashfires: You might be locked out by Emeria, the Sky Ruin!

Otherworldly Journey: I assume this is a foil for Dark Depths, a redundancy over his main deck Paths, but one with a little more flexibility.

Ravenous Trap: When was the last time Dredge didn't put three cards into its graveyard?

Eight Copies of Steppe Lynx

Martin Juza's Domain Zoo
Extended - Quarterfinalist, Pro Tour–Austin


Hunter Burton's Molten Zoo
Extended - Semifinalist, Pro Tour–Austin


Steppe Lynx is a card that I initially misevaluated; we can see its strong potential as a contributor to two of these Top 8 decks.

Juza's is a return to the Domain Zoo of old, what we used to call Gaea's Might Get There before Gaea's Might rotated out to be replaced by the functionally equivalent Might of Alara. The deck can get all five basic land types onto the battlefield (Island from Steam Vents, Swamp from Blood Crypt, Mountain from ... um ... Mountain, Forest from Temple Garden, and Plains from ... um ... also Temple Garden, say); at this point Might of Alara and Tribal Flames are turbo-charged.

Hunter Burton's deck, on the other hand, focuses much more closely on the lands ... its own as well as the opponent's!

While it also sticks to Naya Colors, Hunter's deck differs quite a bit from Tsuyoshi's. This deck has a full eight-creature complement of landfall beaters, adding Plated Geopede to Steppe Lynx. As we saw with Christian Calcano's Standard deck last week, the combination of Arid Mesa and Steppe Lynx or Plated Geopede can yield tremendous damage. Your one-drop can crash in for 5 on turn two!


In addition, Burton played Molten Rain, an oldie but goodie we haven't seen in an Extended Top 8 of this style since Tsuyoshi Fujita and his Boros Deck Wins. Extended is a format where the expectation for Molten Rain will consistently be 2 damage; at the same time, the card can slow things down or in some cases end the game outright on turn three. Draw enough Verdant Catacombs, and a Plated Geopede will rip a Rhox War Monk in two!

Urborg, Thoughtseize; Dark Depths, Hexmage

Paulo Vitor Dama da Rosa's Dark Depths
Extended - Quarterfinalist, Pro Tour–Austin


This deck is capable of some of the fastest offensive opening hands in the format.

The key is Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth: Urborg turns Dark Depths into a Swamp, so it can tap for black mana (normally Dark Depths can't tap for anything). When the two lands are in concert, Dark Depths can tap to produce a Vampire Hexmage, which in turn, will help it crack open immediately for a 20/20 indestructible flyer.

A match made in heaven?

Well, like many great romances, even this one takes a lot of work to keep its principals together.


Tolaria West: A land that searches for lands (any zero, actually, such as with Tormod's Crypt) can help find Dark Depths. When you already have the Hexmage, Tolaria West can help close the combo.

Beseech the Queen: Either or.

Muddle the Mixture: While it can "only" recruit Vampire Hexmage to your side, this spell has a built-in value as an actual permission spell (plus, it can get Dark Confidant in a pinch).

The prospect of a second-turn 20/20 is quite something; the existence of this deck (and many like it) has prompted quite a few specific card choices that might not have happened otherwise. For instance, in this very deck, we see Repeal for the mirror match. The Marit Lage token from Dark Depths is quite hard to kill most of the time, but forcing the opponent to pick it up instead is plenty effective (see also cards like Path to Exile and Otherworldly Journey).

Bitterblossom: Not just for winning on turn two any more! This card can play "Forcefield" and hold off the 20/20, say, nineteen times?

Hypergenesis Cascade

When it comes to swift and stupid combo decks, Hexmage is near the top of the hop, but the Hypergensis deck is also quite the animal.

Evangelos Papatsarouchas's Hypergenesis Cascade
Extended - Quarterfinalist, Pro Tour–Austin


This deck works a very special way.

It centers around the three-mana spells Ardent Plea and Demonic Dread. These cards have no choice but to flip over Hypergenesis (there are no other cards that cost two or less). Hypergenesis fires, and then the deck is off to the races! Any and every Angel, Dragon, Golem, or Hydra Avatar hit the table to start doing battle. All of the threats are tremendous, and in most cases better than anything the opponent can easily match on the battlefield or race.


There is a subtle issue here. You are a fast combo deck that wants accelerated draws, but you can't play with Chrome Mox! The Hypergenesis deck has a couple of options and opportunities. Most substitute Mox action with Simian Spirit Guide. The Ape costs three, so it won't interfere with the combo when cascading.

And Then There Was Dredge


Naoki Shimizu's Dredge
Extended - Semifinalist, Pro Tour–Austin


The perennial boogeyman of modern Magic finally broke through to multiple Top 8 finishes in Austin. The strategy ostensibly lost out tremendously with the rotation of Odyssey block, but the Zendikar gains seem to have backed up the departure of Breakthrough.

Bloodghast: As the Dredge deck flips cards indiscriminately into the graveyard, Bloodghast can sub as a kind of Narcomoeba. By playing a land, a Dredge player can put the Bloodghast directly into play from the graveyard as a zero-mana enabler to one third of a Dread Return.

Hedron Crab: Another landfall Dredge enabler, the Crab, in concert with a Scalding Tarn, can put six cards directly into the graveyard, where they can set up future shenanigans via Stinkweed Imp or Golgari Grave-Troll.

When you do Dredge up that Imp or Grave-Troll, the goal is to flip over multiple Narcomoebas and a Dread Return. You can sacrifice three creatures to cast the Dread Return and watch something wonderful happen. The classic kill is to bring back Flame-Kin Zealot, which will give all your creatures haste for the turn; the creatures themselves are the multitude of 2/2 tokens produced by however many copies of Bridge from Below you have also put into the graveyard via Crabs, the Dredge mechanic, and so on.


A new Dread Return target from Zendikar is Iona, Shield of Emeria; this big Angel is the replacement for the original Akroma as the Dredge deck's "alternate" victory condition. Iona stops the opponent from casting spells of a particular color, essentially locking the opponent out of the remainder of the game by preempting the ability to interact.

The Best of the Rest

Many of Pro Tour Austin's top performing decks that did not make Top 8 can be found here.

These are some of the most interesting:

Mark Dictus's Martyr of Sands
Extended - Pro Tour–Austin 2009


This deck (and most like it in Austin) uses Emeria, the Sky Ruin as the "primary" Proclamation of Rebirth to pair with Martyr of Sands.

The unique element is a now-inevitable Felidar Sovereign, which turns Martyr's frustrating function into a bona fide way to win.


Another take on Emeria, this one locks down the opponent with Yosei, the Morning Star plus Miren, the Moaning Well. Gifts Ungiven is the glue.


Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Scapeshift piggyback on Green mana ramping to deal a massive amount of damage in one big move. Mountain, Mountain, Mountain... kill ya.


This deck is a Swiss Army Knife of sorts, combining the Vampire Hexmage / Dark Depths combo with Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry, multiple Gifts Ungiven packages, and control elements.


Finally, I was delighted to see a classic White-Blue Control deck perform in the midst of all these fancy-pants powerhouses. Kitchen Finks and Baneslayer Angel work hard—and with tremendous defensive deck speed—in a format full of Zoo variants. Cryptic Command remains the answer to, um, everything.

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