The New Extended: The Return of Trix
The New Extended
Invasion Limited has been the hot topic on everyone's lips the last few weeks, and with good reason. We've all been busy checking out the new set, playing in PTQs for PT LA, and following the Invasion Limited Grand Prix. But my very favorite part of the Magic year-Extended season-will soon be upon us, and it's never too soon to start scheming. The Extended qualifiers for PT Tokyo begin in mid-November, and 6 Grand Prix in the next two months (Kyoto, Sydney, Buenos Aires, Florence, Phoenix, and Singapore) will feature this wonderful Force-of-Will-Demonic-Consultation-Jackal-Pup format. To help you prepare, The Sideboard will be featuring a series of articles on what's what in Extended. Every week, I will examine a different deck archetype, and look at where it's been and where it may be going. I don't claim to have all the answers (who can?) but I hope you find the series to be a useful starting point. I welcome your feedback and suggestions throughout the coming weeks.
Bannings, schmannings, Necro-Donate lives!
This year's Extended season is going to be particularly exciting, because we're all still reeling a little bit from the banning of Dark Ritual and Mana Vault. After the dominance of the "Trix" Necro-Donate deck last season, the DCI banned these fast mana producers in an effort to deflate Trix and slow down combo decks in general. While they certainly accomplished their goal, many other Extended decks became so weak in the process that they may be outright unplayable. Suicide Black, Hatred, Pox, Buried Alive, and traditional Necropotence decks were all "innocent bystanders" caught in the crossfire. No matter how you feel about the bannings, it does mean that this year is a very new Extended, and we'll all be looking for clues to how the post-banning metagame will shake out.
Where might those clues come from? There have been 3 major Extended events since the bannings: the New Wave All-Female Invitational, the NY Master's Tournament, and the NY Master's Gateway. Decklists and statistics from those tournaments can be found here:
It looks like Survival of the Fittest decks, in many different flavors, will be the most popular. Billy "Baby Huey" Jensen won the NY Master's tournament with his permission-heavy Tradewind Survival (TS) deck. Teched-out combo Survival decks are also being played, such as YMG's "Special K" deck and Olivier Ruel's "Wheaties a bibi." Traditional creature-based Survival decks built around Recurring Nightmare are also still viable, although will probably fall out of favor if faced with a field full of counterspell-heavy TS decks. After Survival, there is Sligh. Sligh is eternal - people just can't resist the chance to say "Mountain, Jackal Pup, Go!" Only Kurt Burgner played Sligh in the Master's, but this is probably a serious underestimation of how popular it will be in the general field. In the Gateway tournament, Sligh tied for the most popular deck, being played by 17 of the 102 competitors. 17/102, or 16.7%, is a pretty small percentage for the most popular archetype. That just goes to show how diverse today's Extended really is. After these two decks, the field is wide open. Counter Sliver, Oath of Druids, and Forbidian were all a presence in the early Extended events, as were a smattering of other decks such as Stompy, Stasis, Legion Land Loss, Secret Force, Turbo Land, "Stupid Green Deck," Fish, White Weenie, and Replenish/PandeBurst. And finally, there is Trix. Oh, the irony... Bannings, schmannings, Necro-Donate lives! It was the 2nd most popular deck at the NY Master's series (after Survival variants), played by 5 of the 32 participants, and 10 Trix decks showed up in the Gateway. I will discuss many of these decks in the coming weeks, but will start today with that deck nearest and dearest to my heart: the ever-hated, ever-resilient Trix.
What's in a Name? Many people have asked me how the deck came to be called Trix, so let me tell the story here briefly. Last year about this time, cereal names were all the rage. How THAT started, I have no idea...if someone could tell me, I'd love to know. We first got the idea for the name "Trix" at PT Chicago, when Mark Rosewater ran up to us with an excited grin on his face and wanted us to call our Enduring Renewal, Goblin Bombardment, Survival of the Fittest deck "Trix" because it was "tricky." We already had a name for that deck, "Wheaties", so we didn't take Mark's suggestion. But later, Rob Dougherty decided that "Trix" would be perfect for the Necro Donate deck because of the illustration on Illusions of Grandeur. There's a tiny rabbit who thinks he's a huge dragon. Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!
Most of you are probably familiar with how the Trix deck works, but I'll do a quick summary just in case some of you haven't yet seen the deck in action. The basic combo is to cast Illusions of Grandeur, gain 20 life, and Donate the enchantment to your opponent. When the Illusions leaves play, either because you destroy it, bounce it back to your hand, or your opponent can no longer pay it's cumulative upkeep, s/he loses 20 life. What makes the deck abusive is the use of Necropotence as a card drawing engine. Not only does it help you find the combo quickly, but gaining 20 life lets you draw 20 extra cards, and if that's not amazing, I don't know what is! The deck's strengths are the incredible power of Necropotence, and the ability to play some of the most powerful permission (Force of Will), search (Demonic Consultation), and disruption (Duress) in the format. It's weaknesses are super-fast beatdown decks, and cards that can destroy the Illusions of Grandeur before it gets Donated (Disenchant, Pyroblast, Seal of Cleansing, Aura of Silence, Elvish Lyrist). If your opponent gains life to get above 20, winning is more difficult, but not impossible-it just means that you have to cycle through the combo twice.
There is only a limited amount of flexibility possible in the design of this deck. The core combo, search, and disruption cards are more or less unchangeable: 4 each of Necropotence, Illusions of Grandeur, Donate, Demonic Consultation, Duress, and Force of Will. Add to these 24 cards approximately 22 land, and that leaves only 14 slots that can be tinkered with. The original Trix decks played with 7-8 mana acceleration cards, Mana Vault and Dark Ritual, and 6-7 cards devoted to more search, creature kill, and cards like Hoodwink to protect against opposing Auras of Silence or Nevinyrral's Disks. For reference, below is the Trix deck I played at Grand Prix Philadelphia:
GP Philadelphia 2/19/00 *12th*
4 Illusions of
4 Force of Will
3 Vampiric Tutor
2 Lim-Dul's Vault
4 Dark Ritual
3 Mana Vault
4 Underground River
4 Underground Sea
4 Gemstone Mine
3 Skittering Horror
4 Phyrexian Negator
Trix - Current Configurations
When Dark Ritual and Mana Vault were banned, many people thought this deck was dead. I was one of them. I fooled around with alternate routes for mana ramping, such as Mox Diamond and Exploration, but both were frustrating compared to what the deck had once been. Whether or not Trix is still viable, I think, depends very much on the metagame. Trix is not anywhere near as fast as it used to be. Because of that, super-fast beatdown decks like Sligh, Stompy and Counter Sliver are much harder matchups than before. However, if the field is dominated by mid-range to slow control decks like Survival variants, Stasis, and Forbidian, then Trix is still a very powerful option. This was the case at the NY Master's series, where only 3 players played what could be considered a beatdown deck. Below is the Trix deck played by Dirk Baberowski and Kai Budde at the NY Master's. Warren Marsh, John Marks, and Alex Shvartsman played versions that differed by only a few cards.
NY Master's Tournament 10/00
4 Illusions of
4 Force of Will
4 Vampiric Tutor
4 Mox Diamond
4 Underground Sea
3 Underground River
2 Gemstone Mine
4 Phyrexian Negator
The core 24 cards haven't changed, except that several of the players ran only 3 Donates. I sympathize with the need to cut cards in a deck design as tight as this one, but I can't help but think this is asking to remove your way to win from the game with an unlucky Demonic Consultation. Especially if your opponent gains a significant amount of life, (like with a Spike Feeder or Claws of Gix), you'll have to combo twice, and it's really hard to hold on to 2 Donates when you only have 3 in the deck. Having fewer Donates also means you have to think a lot harder before you throw one away to a Force of Will, which is a situation that come up fairly often.
To make up for the loss of Ritual and Mana Vault, these players ran a little more land-23 compared to 21 or 22 common in the old versions. Mox Diamonds substitute for the rest of the mana acceleration. They're no Dark Ritual, but they are very nice for helping out with speed and color balance. Mox Diamond makes it easier to cast splash cards like Firestorm, while not having to run so many non-basic lands that would be vulnerable to Price of Progress or Back to Basics.
A big chunk of the remaining slots are the 4 Brainstorms. While Brainstorm isn't mana ramping either, it does help to smooth out mana draws considerably. It can also be used to hide important cards from a Duress, shuffle unwanted cards back into your library when used before a Vampiric Tutor, and can be another blue card to be pitched to Force of Will. The Misdirection is also a nice touch. Against permission decks, it's an extra Force of Will, and against beatdown it can save you a lot of damage. There are very few plays in Magic that are more fun than Misdirecting a Fireblast from your face to a Jackal Pup. Ouch!
Where the Deck is Going
Will Invasion add anything to Trix?
Trix will probably not change much throughout the coming season, even with the introduction of Invasion on November 1. Let's say most versions will play with the core 24 cards, 22 land, and 4 Mox Diamonds--that leaves us 10 slots to play with. In the Master's series Trix decks, those slots were taken up by 4 Vampiric Tutors, 4 Brainstorms, 1 Firestorm, and 1 Misdirection, and that's a pretty good roster. Innovation with this deck will mean slight changes to the 10 flexible slots and to the sideboard according to your local metagame. But don't get me wrong - small changes can have big effects. Planning for your metagame is vital! For example, let's say you thought you'd face a lot of control decks, and didn't include a Firestorm or Contagion in the your deck. Then someone drops an Elvish Lyrist... scoop up your cards, because you just lost. The same thing is true if someone drops an Aura of Silence and you didn't include a Hoodwink-type card. I prefer to "play it honest" and always include at least one of each of these cards in the main deck, and more in the sideboard depending on what I think I'll be facing. I don't believe in taking a deck to a tournament that has a built in auto-lose condition. There's enough luck in this game already without having to hope you don't run into cards X or Y because you have no answer.
Will Invasion add anything to Trix? There are definitely some interesting candidates, although in the long run, I don't think they'll win out over their older and more powerful competitors. Nevertheless, they're interesting to think about, and I've included a short list below.
Definitely interesting, and it's low casting cost makes it even more intriguing. It's not as powerful as Vampiric Tutor, but I could see experimenting with it in that slot. It could be very useful at the stage of the game when you've got Necropotence in play, and you need to find an Illusions of Grandeur ASAP. Even if there's no Illusions in the top 7 cards, that's 7 fewer cards you have to Necro through, and 7 more life to work with.
Fact or Fiction
Everyone is raving about this card, and with good reason - it's some mighty powerful card drawing. Ultimately, though, it's casting cost of 4 will probably make it too slow for this deck.
I love Opt. If you don't have a reshuffling effect, it gets you further into your library than Brainstorm in the long run. Although unlike Brainstorm, it doesn't have the added bonus of letting you hide cards from an untimely Duress. Did I mention I love Opt anyway?
Card drawing and discard in one, what more could a Trix player want? As much as I love the thought of Probing with kicker, the truth is that by the time you get to 5 mana, you should probably be doing something more dangerous... like killing your opponent.
A better option than Hoodwink?
This card has very interesting potential. It has the ability to serve in the "Hoodwink slot" by getting rid of Auras of Silence or Seals of Cleansing, but it can also bounce problem creatures like active Elvish Lyrists and Tradewind Riders. The discard is a nice bonus.
Yes, it would be nice against Slivers. No, it won't be played. We never played with Extinction, either.
A very nice thought, but there's really not room for additional permission beyond the 4 Force of Wills. Even if there was, cheaper cards such as Misdirection, Counterspell, Mana Leak, or Arcane Denial would be better.
That's it for this time. If you choose to play this deck, know your metagame, think carefully about your sideboard, mulligan aggressively, and above all, practice, practice, practice! This isn't a deck you can pick up the night before the tournament. You will lose some games to bad draws, bad matchups, and bad Demonic Consultations, but you will also experience the joy of Necro'ing for 15 and Donating a big blue enchantment that nobody really wanted anyway. Savage!