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The skies parted. The venue flooded. Graveyards got washed away. The Pro Tour went on.

Unveiling Extended and Other Stories

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The letter T!he skies parted. The venue flooded. Graveyards got washed away. The Pro Tour went on.

FloodBy now most of you know about the rainstorm that hit Pro Tour–Valencia. As a fan of the game, I was actually heartbroken (okay, "heartbroken" is maybe overstating it but you get the picture) waking up on Friday morning only to learn that I would have to wait another 24 hours before finding out whether or not boogeyman Dredge got the Pro Tour... or at least Day One.

It turns out that while Dredge was one of the most popular decks in the tournament, it did not make the break to Top 8. Reason prevailed, hatred bared its pointed fangs, and graveyards everywhere were emptied before they could perpetrate too much mischief. Bill Stark wrote a very informative breakdown of the Valencia metagame for the official tournament coverage; you can read it here.

CounterTopGoyf – Remi Fortier

At the end of the abridged two day tournament, the top deck was a tuned look at CounterTopGoyf, one of the most popular decks on Magic Online, "first place" in more than one week of online analysis.

This deck does not differ significantly from the decks we have seen previously. Fortier's deck plays a little more land (which, from my own testing, is exactly what it needed), and three copies of Threads of Disloyalty starting; on the other hand, Remi played only two copies of Counterbalance in his main or anywhere. Going a little old school, the Valencia champ ran four copies of the classic, Counterspell, but none of the new kid, Spell Snare.

The key to this deck is Sensei's Divining Top. The Top is probably the deck's most important bounty by way of Trinket Mage, a complement to both Counterbalance and Dark Confidant. With Sensei's Divining Top online, Dark Confidant does a lot less collateral damage. At the same time, Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top is a soft lock... at least against decks without extravagant mana costs.

Graveyard Resistance

Main deck: 3 Trinket Mage + 1 Tormod's Crypt; Crypt recursion via Academy Ruins
Sideboard: 2 Tormod's Crypt

Enduring Ideal – Andre Müller

Another popular archetype in the tournament was Enduring Ideal. Most Enduring Ideal decks seen in Extended over the past year have been hybrid decks including the Draco + Erratic Explosion combination or Balancing Act, but finalist Andre Müller ran pure, straight acceleration-into-enchantments.

Enduring Ideal plays numerous mana-ramping cards, like Lotus Bloom, Pentad Prism, Seething Song, or just its lands, many of which explode for more than one mana. Andre used the extra mana to make it to his normally prohibitively expensive signature card, Enduring Ideal. With epic online, the Enduring Ideal deck can with the game from multiple different angles.

One plan would be to lock out the game with Solitary Confinement. Stuck under epic, Andre wouldn't "need" his card per turn anyway... Then again, stuck under Solitary Confinement, he wouldn't be getting one. Enter Honden of Seeing Winds. One card feeds the other; most decks can't bust through a Confinement, and Form of the Dragon wins in four or fewer. Dovescape is another lock card. With Dovescape in play, you can't really break out of Solitary Confinement unless you play with very specific cards like Ronom Unicorn... even when you "have" the answer. Note the synergies between Dovescape and Müller's sideboarded copies of Boseiju, Who Shelters All... Boseiju can force through Enduring Ideal against permission... But there is always the question of being raced while a counter deck answers subsequent epic copies; the answer is to just go and get Dovescape first. Another option is to drop Dovescape before Enduring Ideal... You can follow up playing spells using Boseiju, Who Shelters All. You get both the doves and the spell.

Enduring Ideal is a very interesting gap choice for Extended. Müller's build runs many of the cards that make elite deck TEPS "go" ... but it is not badly hosed by anti-storm measures. It is a fast combo deck, if not the fastest, but it is immune to the graveyard hate that defined much of Valencia's anti-combo resource dedication. Subtly, the mere presence of Sensei's Divining Top helped to defend against cards like Duress, normally poison for combo when played in a fast enough deck.

Graveyard Resistance

Main deck: 4 Enduring Ideal for 1 Morningtide and conditionally 1 Cranial Extraction
Sideboard: 1 Morningtide, 1 Cranial Extraction, 3 Tormod's Crypt, and 4 Leyline of the Void

Domain Aggro – Takayuki Koike

The darling of Raphael Levy's last Extended Grand Prix season showed up in Valencia as a hybrid of effective elements, merging the full domain of Gaea's Might Get There with numerous elements of Pat Chapin's four-color version (the one Mark Herberholz used to make a Grand Prix Top 8 in Dallas... losing, ironically, to eventual winner Levy).

The advantage of the previous default Domain Aggro deck was Gaea's Might, specifically Gaea's Might aimed at a Boros Swiftblade ("take twelve"). This version only has one way to specifically exploit the many faces of its mana base (specifically that Steam Vents), Tribal Flames. The rest of the colors in Koike's deck actually just, well... They actually play cards, cast spells, etc. Red makes Grim Lavamancer. Green kicks Kird Ape and enables Tarmogoyf. Black is there for Dark Confidant and Vindicate, white for the other half of the latter.

Domain Aggro is very versatile and high powered. Most specifically, it has nearly the punch of an actual red deck, but gets to compliment Firebolt with Tribal Flames ("take five") and Lightning Helix (basically the best card of its class and cost ever printed).

Koike's version of Domain Aggro does not play Savannah Lions, so he has less of a chance to run the optimal aggro opening (three two-power creatures on the second turn), but Mogg Fanatic is just a great and versatile card... Especially as it can stifle Bridge from Below.

Graveyard Resistance

Main deck: Arguably 3 Mogg Fanatic
Sideboard: 4 Leyline of the Void

Gifts Rock – Tine Rus

It's The Rock; he plays Gifts Ungiven! Midrange control plus one of the best card drawing / selection instants in the history of the game makes for a deck capable of dealing with basically any type of opponent. The addition of Collective Restraint is a powerful one. On a fast draw, Rus can hit that enchantment on the third turn, flat out winning numerous matchups, and at least slowing Dredge down.

The presence of multiple types of tutor / engine cards gives Rus the ability to find any card in his deck, even a singleton, often at instant speed. For example, Gifts Ungiven for Eternal Witness, Living Wish, and Extirpate will basically ensure that you get Extirpate because you will either get the Extirpate itself, or the Witness (Witness proxy Living Wish).

Graveyard Resistance

Main deck: 1 Extirpate, 2 Living Wish for 1 Yixlid Jailer and 1 Withered Wretch
Sideboard: 1 Yixlid Jailer, 1 Withered Wretch, conditionally 1 Haunting Echoes

The Rock – Giulio Barra

The Rock meets Tarmogoyf! One of the main criticisms of this archetype over the years (at least since the days of four Spiritmongers) is that The Rock has gone soft on finishers. Well, now it has a superb finisher that happens to cost two mana (as does almost any other deck that wants to play it).

As for the rest, Barra's deck is a pretty straightforward update to the classic Jelger Wiergsma / Sol Malka favorite... a couple of creatures, some cheap discard, a fair amount of creature elimination, four Pernicious Deeds... a classic, as I said. White comes by way of the Onslaught / Ravnica Block mana marriage.

Graveyard resistance

Main deck: arguably 4 Sakura Tribe Elder and 4 Loxodon Hierarch (but not really)
Sideboard: 4 Leyline of the Void, 3 Tormod's Crypt, 2 Yixlid Jailer

Ravager Affinity – Sam Stein

Is Tarmogoyf the greatest creature of all time? What other card has reached its massive level of demand in the secondary market while legal for Standard? It forces black-blue to play green and fits effortlessly into a deck known for its large amount of colorless mana costs.

Tarmogoyf is particularly good in Affinity... The lands are almost all artifacts, the creatures are artifacts, half the artifacts are all jumping into the graveyard by themselves... Then there's the one-mana sorceries, defensive enchantments, &c. Stein didn't play it, but Shrapnel Blast seems very good with Tarmogoyf... It's kind of seven damage.

It's great to see the best aggressive archetype of all time near the top again.

Graveyard resistance

Main deck: 3 Tormod's Crypt
Sideboard: 1 Tormod's Crypt

Tormod's Crypt is pretty good against Dredge and Cephalid Breakfast... But in Affinity, it's also kind of like a Llanowar Elves!

Blue-White 'Tron decks – Shuhei Nakamura and Makihito Mihara


These decks harness the mana production of Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower to play extravagant threats like Sundering Titan and Mindslaver. On the way, they play U/W control, using light permission (Condescend and/or Remand, which actually help dig up the UrzaTron) and board control to get to their end games.

While these two decks had quite a bit in common (including main deck graveyard resistance in four copies of Tolaria West to get one copy of Tormod's Crypt, Tolaria West also being pretty good at assembling the 'Tron), but what strikes me, especially as Mihara and Nakamura had some playtest partners in common, is how different their implementations ended up. Mihara ran three Remands... Shuhei none at all! Fact or Fiction or Gifts Ungiven? They cost the same, they do kind of the same things... but these two instants play like night and day.

A Lesson from MTGO

For the first part of this week's MTGO section, I will make an ass out of you and me... well me anyway. You know what they say about what happens when you assume something! Last week I credited a deck played by one PVDDR to Fan Favorite Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (I know, how could I?); however it has come to my attention that PVDDR is actually former JSS winner Arthur Stewart. Sorry!

Here's something interesting... I have been lamenting the lack of good life gain in Standard recently. We have gotten spoiled on our Loxodon Hierarchs, Lightning Helixes, and Firemane Angels. Brion Stoutarm and Knight of Meadowgrain seem pretty awesome, but they can go into a comparatively narrow number of decks... and not really the decks that need the life gain as much. Look at the Ravnica counterparts: Loxodon Hierarch was great in green-white creature decks like Ghazi-Glare... and better in midrange control decks. Lightning Helix made Boros great and Zoo less painful... but allowed Angel decks to dominate creatures. Is there a solution?

Last week's fifth place in the metagame chart by Solar Flare came largely on the back of this deck, by t_shrk. It must be good; t_shrk and his deck were present in the first three PE Top 8s that I tallied for last week's article. See anything interesting, clever, or out of place for the archetype?

Not a lot of data to work with this week... but we do have a Worlds QT winner:

If you didn't catch it in t_shrk's deck, Loxodon Warhammer is once again present, unusually, in Ace King Suited's, which with its Lightning Helixes, is not the kind of deck you might normally consider for Warhammer candidacy.

The more I think of it, the more I can see midrange control decks for Champs playing Loxodon Warhammer to fill up that life gain hole being left by the awesome Ravnica gold cards. Can you imagine an Aeon Chronicler swinging one of these? Loxodon Warhammer is liable to make Mulldrifter look like a scary monster!

Thanks as always to Josh Clark for doing the MTGO leg work.

When Strategy Goes Wrong

In lieu of the short strategy and tactics lessons that with which we have been ending Swimming With Sharks, this week I am just going to put something out there inspired by a conversation I had last week with my friend Greg Weiss, on the subject of strange sideboard card interactions. Probably the biggest conceptual leap a player makes going from complete novice to being capable of winning in the competitive tournament setting is understanding that he has to have a plan (this is the nature of strategy, specifically, in Magic). This is actually easiest for combo players because they can only win in a very finite number of ways, but it applies to every deck playing interactively, too. You need to know what cards in what order you have to draw and sculpt in order to win. The next leap (and this is actually much harder to make because figuring out how to play strategically gives most players such a positive delta that they actually entrench themselves, in some cases becoming too single-minded) is to understand that top-level Magic play requires fluidity, rapid adaptation, and throwing the plan or unique cards out the window when they cease performing (for example, PT–Osaka winner Ken Ho ran Still Life in his Blue-Green versus Mutilate, but by the end of the tournament stopped siding it in, having figured out a superior way to beat Mono-Black mid-tournament).

Open your imagination up a little as you consider this card:

This could be pretty scary for blue, right? Forcing Price of Glory into play early enough puts a big hurt on a blue player's ability to defend himself with Counterspell. That's the idea, anyway. This card gets increasingly less good the later in the game you are able to stick it. Moreover, there is the problem of Blue knowing what you are planning to sideboard... What happens when a blue player sideboards this right back?

No, no. Think harder. Let me help you with this one:

If your opponent has Price of Glory in play, and you have Sacred Ground in play, and you have Ghitu Fire in your hand... He's pretty much dead. You can tap a land for mana, bin it to Price of Glory, get it back with Sacred Ground, rinse and repeat, until you have sufficient mana to kick it lethally, instant-style.

A more recent example is this card:

A green mage would work so hard to entwine his seven nine-mana spell, probably even dropping Boseiju, Who Shelters All along the way in a sideboarded game, in order to waltz right past a hand full of counterspells. The problem is that Twincast doesn't counter a spell, it copies it. What many Tooth and Nail players learned—the hard way—is that many blue mages would devote their sideboards to anti–Tooth and Nail measures. All of a sudden Uyo, the Silent Prophet would appear to copy yet another "uncounterable" Tooth and Nail, or Triskelion and Mephidross Vampire would wipe the board. Very messy.

Many times, as players—human—players, we get excited about drawing a sideboard card and put all of our eggs into that basket, thinking "I can't lose now!" I know that I've thought those very words more than once... and found myself experiencing the wrong side of the unpredictable when I didn't see the opponent's foil.

Consider the latest incarnation of the sideboard auto-win...

This card is awesome, right? It helped Greg Poverelli to win this year's MSS in Baltimore. It strikes fear into the hearts of wizards of midrange analysis and consistently gets a good red deck close enough to finish a game. Like Price of Victory, though, the dream of completely taking out the color blue or a ponderous control deck can turn into a nightmare quickly if the opponent plays the wrong cards.

Here's one of my favorites from the new set, with or without a 'barbs interaction:

Ready. Set. Yikes!

All that, and a 6/6 flyer to boot! As you probably know from a previous article, I love this cycle. I am crossing my fingers that four copies of Purity will end up in my Champs deck this year. Title defense is in less than two weeks!

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