Top_Decks

A look at the most popular and powerful decks in a wide-open Extended field.

The Second Inning Stretch

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The letter S!wimming With Sharks joins you three weeks into the 2007 Extended PTQ season. As such, we've got several PTQ Top 8s to cover and quite a bit of catching up to do. We might as well hit the ground running and go to the Top 8 tallies.

    Week One:
    NO Stick
    TEPS
    Aggro Loam
    G/W Haterator
    U/W 'Tron
    Flow Deck Wins
    Gaea's Might Get There
    Affinity
    Aggro Rock
    U/W Post variants
    B/U/W Wizards
    Flow Rock
    Friggorid
    Loam Slide
    Tooth and Nail
    Trinket Angels
    Zoo


    Week Two:
    TEPS
    U/W Post
    The CAL
    JunkFires
    Toolbox Junk
    U/G Opposition
    U/W 'Tron


    Week Three:

There was only one North American PTQ this past weekend (Week Three) due to the, um, massively pervasive and successful Planar Chaos Prerelease tournaments (and Las Vegas didn't report to the Tournament Center), so we don't have any Week Three data yet.

How to Read These Numbers:

Frank Karsten over at Online Tech has some kind of crazy "popularity" system using a massive amount of Magic Online Adept labor and one thousand supercomputers (rumor has it he and Richard Garfield went back to the University of Pennsylvania and burgled ENIAC itself) to tabulate his boxes… but that's okay. He's Online Tech. Here at Swimming With Sharks, we are old school. One blue box for every PTQ winner, and one white box for every PTQ Top 8. We don't have complete tournament data, and unlike on Magic Online, can't watch a million matches to break down the exact metagame. However, you can just look right to left and count boxes to figure out what the most popular decks are. You should make sure that you prepare for these decks the most, because with incomplete data, the most popular decks are the ones you are most likely to have to beat in the Swiss rounds. I tend to respect minority decks that show up in smaller numbers and finish first more than decks that "merely" graduate to Top 8 pins, and group them, graphically, accordingly.

There are many decks in this format. It might actually be the most diverse format we have ever seen… It is varied like Standard, but with five more years of blocks tacked on, Invasion and forward, to intersect and combine with Ravnica's unbelievable mana options. Some of the decks are well known transplants from other formats, the Boros Deck Wins and Affinity ports from Standard and even Block formats past and present, and there are the decks unique to the format, created by the combination of specific cards from, say, Invasion and Mirrodin, Onslaught and Ravnica.

There are, in fact, far too many decks to analyze all of them exhaustively in a single article. So this time, I am going to just go over the absolute elite or most popular decks in the format, this time all the PTQ winners and the many variants on powerhouse Hallowed Fountain decks.

TEPS

"TEPS" stands for "The Extended Perfect Storm." You may know the style of deck by another name; most Pros refer to it merely as "Ritual Desire," because that is just pretty descriptive…. TEPS plays a bunch of "Rituals" (Rite of Flame, Seething Song, and so forth), creating a critical mass of mana and spells, then rides the storm count to play and break Mind's Desire. Chromatic Star and its like play a twofold role in TEPS. First of all, they are high-velocity spells that essentially Opt or cycle through the deck while simultaneously fixing the deck's mana. Red is easy. Black is pretty easy. Blue ManaBlue Mana for the Mind's Desire? Not a cake walk. TEPS can borrow a little from Channel the Suns and a little from Chromatic Sphere or Darkwater Egg to pay the necessary costs to get the big Storm going.

TEPS is an extremely simple deck to play in the abstract. You should definitely test it, or at least against it, because some version is also almost certainly the best deck in the format. The Hall of Fame's Raphael Levy called his version the best deck he had ever played after an awesome performance at the World Championships. The glory of TEPS is that it wins on the fourth turn essentially every game. My personal testing says that Levy's version will win on the second turn as many as two games in ten. It is extremely good against beatdown decks, and can overpower certain control decks, even the popular U/W 'Tron / big mana school.


This version is very much in the Levy camp. With four copies of Burning Wish, TEPS can play "seven" copies of Mind's Desire, even with only three physical copies of the key card in the main. Dean's deck is fast and consistent. The main kill is Tendrils of Agony, but there is an alternate kill with Goblin tokens thanks to Empty the Warrens should the opponent be playing Ivory Mask, True Believer, or something similar.

I actually like that Dean removed Raph's Duresses entirely from the sideboard (Frank Karsten moved two copies to the main over Plunge into Darkness). Duress is actually kind of bad in this deck. I've played games where the opponent had a double Duress hand to "disrupt my disruption" in the early turns, but then didn't have enough storm to win, even when he hit third- or fourth-turn Mind's Desire. Plunge into Darkness is actually pretty absurd in this deck. The opponent taps out, you pay eighteen life at the end of his turn, untap, and win.


Ryan's deck is based on a Japanese list from The Finals. While fundamentally similar to the Levy deck, the main difference here is Sensei's Divining Top. Ryan won more than once by tapping Top into Top, drawing and replaying the same two artifacts, to jack his storm count and set up Tendrils or Mind's Desire.

G/W Haterator


I actually built this deck to beat the top decks from Worlds and Online Extended (at least they were tops at the time): Boros Deck Wins and TEPS. G/W aggressive decks are hell on Boros Deck to begin with…. The tricky part was beating TEPS. In my version, I played four copies of Gilded Light; Trevor removed these for an extra Umezawa's Jitte, a third Worship, and two Orim's Chants. Gilded Light will usually beat TEPS, but with enough mana, the opponent can theoretically fall back on his Empty the Warrens plan… In that case, you usually need Worship, though probably not Troll Ascetic. Orim's Chant is better to play while the opponent is going off. I liked Gilded Light because it counters Gilded Light and kept saving me from the third consecutive Shrapnel Blast in testing.

Troll Ascetic plus Worship, if not a hard lock in Game 1, will usually buy a deck this aggressive deck sufficient time to race another creature deck.
Most of the known decks in the format are actually byes for G/W Haterator. Flow Rock and Flow Deck Wins are easy to beat because the G/W has so many basic lands…. The Flow decks don't have any big button they can push to create massive card advantage. Affinity is favorable with or without Troll + Worship, but without Disciple of the Vault, it can't really break that combo. Trinket Angels, one of the strongest "anti-" decks in the format, is just not lined up to properly beat G/W. It has no seven for Counterbalance, and one of the four Eternal Dragons will eventually eat all the Exalted Angels. The problem for G/W is that its few bad matchups happen to be among the statistically strongest or relatively weak, yet popular, wings of the metagame. G/W can beat either of the two schools of Hallowed Fountain decks, but can't really be tuned to hate out both consistently during the same tournament. I played G/W in a PTQ and only lost to NO Stick decks, won when I drew Krosan Grip, and lost every Game 1. My conclusion was to cut Plow Under to increase artifact hate (I actually hit all four Plow Unders one game and still lost, believe it or not). However, Trevor needed Plow Under to win his PTQ: His finals opponent was a U/W big mana deck. Unlike the U/W decks, which are difficult to beat, but can be beaten, the next PTQ-winning wonder deck is essentially impossible for G/W to beat:

Aggro Loam


This deck is based on the 5-1 deck from Day Three of the 2006 World Championships. Though we call it Aggro Loam, it isn't really that aggressive, just more aggressive than The CAL.

Operationally, Aggro Loam has one big plan: Life from the Loam. It doesn't really matter what else is going on when you are playing Ancestral Recall every turn. Forgotten Cave, Tranquil Thicket, Wooded Foothills, and Bloodstained Mire all team up to give Scott three more cards in hand. All the Dredge makes Werebear big, and sets up Cabal Therapy as an extra "card in hand" from the graveyard (as if Aggro Loam needed any more card advantage).

The deck has two different endgames, both of them superb. One is the "A" from The CAL, (Seismic) Assault. With a ton of lands in hand, Scott could, you know, discard for two damage per. It doesn't take very many Werebear hits and dropped lands to go lethal. The super-exciting endgame is based on Devastating Dreams. Devastating Dreams requires you to discard several cards… No problem if you have been abusing Life from the Loam. Aggro Loam will usually play Dreams for six or more, for Wrath of God + Armageddon. One creature will generally be left over, Terravore… who is now huge thanks to all the lands in graveyards (from Loam, from hand, from both boards). This end game is very 2002 Psychatog-like, a functional Upheaval, though more synergistic given Life from the Loam as a potential post-Dreams backup plan.

Aggro Loam is another one of the decks that makes Burning Wish look good. Three copies of Devastating Dreams and three copies of Life from the Loam main are virtual sevens. One modification I would make to Scott's sideboard would be the inclusion of three or even four copies of Ancient Grudge, specifically for the next and last of our PTQ-winning archetypes:

NO Stick


This deck is the great grandson of Nick West's Top 8 effort from Pro Tour Columbus some years past. It is a control deck that can play like a combo deck. The combination is Isochron Scepter + Orim's Chant, a soft lock that can also void the combat phase. The addition of Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir from Time Spiral allows NO Stick to transition into a full hard lock. With Teferi in play, the opponent can't play anything on his upkeep, or on the NO Stick player's turn. That means that there will be no response to Orim's Chant played during the opponent's upkeep… Not even Krosan Grip can get out of this unless the NO Stick player screws up… and quite badly.

Fact or Fiction is a virtual six here (fourth copy in the side) and teams up with Cunning Wish and Thirst for Knowledge for some serious card draw. The generally inferior Fire // Ice + Isochron Scepter can also make for a personal Howling Mine while helping to control the board. One innovation I quite liked out of this version was the inclusion of Descendent of Kiyomaro. Most beatdown decks will try to max out on artifact removal to break up or pre-empt the lock, at the expense of any way to fight the Descendent.

NO Stick is anything but a settled archetype. Alesi-Mullen went with Lightning Helix as a sideboard bullet for his Cunning Wish, but it is not uncommon to fight decks with access to all four Helixes. Lightning Helix is actually the best card to imprint on Isochron Scepter after Orim's Chant (and sometimes just better than Orim's Chant) in a variety of matchups. There are versions with more Angels, no main deck Wraths, and different counter mixes, including Force Spike and even Absorb!

All that said, the most popular big slice of the metagame pie to play against in this format seems to be U/W big mana, the aggregate of U/W UrzaTron and U/W Cloudpost variants. Like most archetypes in the wide-open Extended, there are no default lists here. Almost all of the ten recorded U/W 'Tron and Post decks will have innovations and peculiarities that you will not see in another deck in even the same Top 8!

Just for argument's sake, and because I like hybrid decks, I am going to use Steve Locke's second-place deck from the Minneapolis Top 8 for discussion.


This deck has a lot of interesting things going for it. The sore thumb is clearly those three Trinket Mages. The U/W big mana decks can afford their six and seven mana finishers… What's with the Grey Ogres? In this deck, Locke can double up with Thirst for Knowledge by playing a small toolbox of Engineered Explosives, Tormod's Crypt, and Chalice of the Void (I'm actually surprised there is no Pithing Needle main). Chalice of the Void is actually a monster in this format. Try playing Chalice for one against Ichorid or for two against Aggro Loam and see how much time you can buy.

Steve's deck is a Cloudpost, rather than UrzaTron, deck. There are arguments in favor of both schools of thought. I like UrzaTron because the lands all come into play untapped. The Cloudpost decks, on the other hand, have several strikes against. What happens when you draw Vesuva before Cloudpost? Doesn't it suck that your lands come into play tapped? The biggest incentive, though, and the reason there is debate here, is that for a two color deck, Cloudpost just leaves more open slots for mana… particularly important when another colorless land in Academy Ruins comes essentially spoken for.

The U/W big mana decks are all about power. Most or all will have an end game based on Mindslaver. In Extended, one Mindslaver will usually be game, but in these decks, U/W can actually just win. Academy Ruins puts Mindslaver on top, so U/W can't ever deck. Meanswhile, recurring the same threat time and again will make it impossible for an opponent to attack.

The other threats in these decks vary wildly. Sundering Titan seems as good as anything, but you will see many kinds of kill cards, including Exalted Angels, Eternal Dragons, and even Meloku the Clouded Mirror.

We've just touched upon the decks that have either already actually won tournaments, or are the most popular opponents that you are almost certain to face, and we are already past the high point in, say, Kamigawa Block. Extended is big, and that makes it hard to predict. Can your favorite deck compete against the monsters included in today's article? If not, may I suggest you revisit a little something my old buddy Worth Wollpert once told me, well before he started at R&D, on the occasion of my first (Constructed) PTQ win: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

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