Writing this particular column was a really interesting experience. I started with some strong Tier One Extended deck lists and tried to make a deck that had a lot of game against all of them. I'm usually scouring Gatherer, but something that week told me to sift through my binders. I flipped through a few pages and saw Martyr of Sands. If there's such thing as a love/hate relationship with a piece of cardboard (or whatever these things are made out of), then I most certainly have it with Martyr of Sands. Martyr of Sands was in a Standard deck I played for about three months. Over that period I probably had a record of 50-3 or something in Standard. I think I won ten FNMs in a row with the same deck list. Despite such good fortune, there's something I really hate about a card that can provide such an absurd amount of life gain.
The deck itself turned out to be very powerful. The control decks that did well at Worlds could pose a serious problem, but I'm sure the deck is tunable. I found myself winning matches against a lot of tier one decks. The deck has a legitimate plan against just about everything. I hope you all enjoy this fun and insightful piece.
This article originally ran on November 11, 2009.
This week I was surfing the web pages of a few different local card shops. I saw an upcoming Extended tournament and decided I should brew up something special. I really enjoy designing budget Extended decks; the possibilities are endless and there always seems to be room for innovation and improvement. I asked around and read some tournament coverage and decided that I needed to make a deck that aimed to beat three major archetypes:
Zoo (Classic or Rubin-Style): This is probably the most important deck to beat. Generally speaking, PTQs and other smaller Extended tournaments always seem to have a lot of Zoo decks. I'm not sure why this occurs, but it most certainly does. Playing aggressive creatures and burn spells is always going to be a pretty good plan, and people are not afraid to sleeve it up over and over again.
Dark Depths: This was one of the breakout decks of Pro Tour–Austin. I remember trying to get as many Dark Depths as I possibly could at the Zendikar Prerelease. People would ask why I wanted such an obscure card and I would explain the combo with Vampire Hexmage. Most people would promptly explain that their Dark Depths were not for trade. I don't know if this deck is still Tier 1, but I feel like its novelty will help it retain at least some popularity. A deck with heavy disruption that can put a 20/20 flyer into play on turn two is something to watch out for.
Dredge: I heard this bell toll a while ago. As soon as Mogg Fanatic and Life from the Loam were hitting binders I knew this could be a breakout deck. Mogg Fanatic became significantly weaker with the Magic 2010 rules changes and Life from the Loam is not the reusable ancestral it used to be with the cycling lands from Onslaught. That means Mogg Fanatic is no longer in main decks to fight Bridge from Below, and with Life from the Loam out of the picture I felt the chances of running into cards like Tormod's Crypt or Relic of Progenitus were greatly reduced. The deck performed fairly well at Pro Tour–Austin and will probably see a good amount of play for a while.
Don't get me wrong—there are other playable decks in Extended—but this seems to be the first tier right now. Hypergenesis is a powerful deck with unbeatable draws, but it is not much fun to play (local tournaments won't be flush with this archetype) and its draws are pretty shaky. (Good luck trying to go 7-1-1 for the PTQ Top 8.) Red Burn decks and Affinity are also a very real threats that we should keep in mind with this deck's construction.
One of the first things I like to do is find a card that corners a big portion of the metagame and begin to build around it. Martyr of Sands seems like a really powerful tool against the known decks of the metagame. Zoo players will probably want to stab themselves the moment this lady waltzes out onto the battlefield. Martyr is also an excellent plan against dredge decks that are aiming to win with the Flame-Kin Zealot plan.
Any deck with Martyr of Sands should probably be playing a few copies of Proclamation of Rebirth to get the some uncounterable life gain churning in the late game. Another card I want to play with Martyr of Sands is Ranger of Eos (what a surprise!). The Ranger is an extraordinary card advantage tool that can shut out aggressive decks all by itself when combined with cards like Martyr of Sands.
I scoured [http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Default.aspx]Gatherer looking for cards that went well with what I had thus far and decided that a healthy removal suite combined with a good endgame plan was probably the right way to go. I just needed to find the endgame plan I was looking for. A few years ago Mike Flores made a deck that tried to run Windbrisk Heights into Biorhythm, but that seemed like a messy gamble for a deck like this. I spoke to a few friends and decided that Thopter Foundry in conjunction with Sword of the Meek was probably the best finisher available.
Here's how it works for those of you who haven't seen the combo yet. With the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek on the battlefield, you can pay and sacrifice the Sword of the Meek. You gain 1 life and put a 1/1 flying Thopter token into play. Sacrificing the Sword of the Meek is part of the cost for activating your Thopter Foundry. So when the 1/1 blue artifact creature comes into play you get to attach the Sword of the Meek from your graveyard for free. Every one mana available to you becomes another 1 life and another 1/1 blue flyer. As an added bonus, you will have at least one 2/3 flyer in the mix thanks to your combolicious Equipment. Both pieces of this combo are uncommons that are not in very high demand, so this seemed like a good budget answer to the question, "What will we close the game with?"
I wanted to fill the deck in with a healthy dose of card draw and removal. I want to include Muddle the Mixture because it searches for both halves of my combo and acts as a nice counter for my opponent's key spells. Thirst for Knowledge is probably the best card draw spell available in Extended and this deck can probably make pretty good use of it.
The mana base was a little daunting here but I think I did the best I could considering my budget. If you have some Hallowed Fountains to replace the Adarkar Wastes, you could probably support one or two copies of Emeria, the Sky Ruin for some free Martyr recursion in the late game, but I decided to play it safe in regards to budget here. I really liked Fieldmist Borderpost in testing. It gave me an excellent random thing to sacrifice to my Thopter Foundry when I already had a Sword of the Meek in my graveyard, it was nice to slowroll in my hand to gain some extra life off my Martyr of Sands (Remember that the Borderpost is actually a white card!), and it proved to be a respectable way to fix my mana on a budget. Adarkar Wastes is essentially a junk rare these days and can be picked up for virtually nothing when trading. If you have trouble finding the painlands I'm sure the deck would function well enough with some extra basics.
The rest of the deck seemed pretty straightforward to me. I wanted a lot of removal spells and perhaps a few silver bullets for my Muddle the Mixture. Here's the deck list I settled on:
The sideboard may seem a little sketchy right now, but I'm sure it comes close to being correct. I included seven cards to help our Hypergenesis match-up, but at least four of those cards function well in other match-ups also. I said I did not think Hypergenesis was too big of a threat, but I don't think this deck has much room for sideboarding in other match-ups so I'm not afraid to put in that much hate. The rest of the sideboard is pretty straight-forward. I'd like to explain the deck's match-ups and explain how I would sideboard for each of them.
It may seem strange that I'm taking out an anti-creature enchantment against a deck with so many creatures. I want the extra Journey to Nowhere because a diversified set of removal will do very well to prevent awkward losses to cards like Meddling Mage. This match-up should be a extremely easy. Zoo opponents will probably go on tilt the moment you cast a Martyr of Sands. The Rubin version of the deck will be a bit harder, but the match-up is still vastly in this deck's favor. Just play a careful game and this match-up should be very easy to win.
Your biggest enemy in this match is probably Chalice of the Void for one. You have a lot of outs after board, though, and the match-up should not be difficult to win for a savvy player. The deck definitely has enough spot removal for Marit Lage. Once we get our Thopter Foundry going with Sword of the Meek, the Dark Depths combo will be probably be dead in the water. A lot of the time you may need to prematurely sacrifice a Fieldmist Borderpost to your Thopter Foundry in order to chump block their 20/20 for a turn. Diversified cost of removal is important for getting around Chalice; after board, we have removal spells that cost one, two, and three. There are a lot of games where your opponent puts a 20/20 flyer into play on turn three and stands no chance of winning. I like this match-up a lot.
Dredge will not be happy to play against a deck like this. Most match-ups are Game 1 byes for the much-maligned graveyard combo deck, but this deck has Martyr of Sands to swing otherwise unbeatable draws. If your opponent's list has a single copy of Iona, Shield of Emeria then things get a little more difficult, but they are by no means disastrous. If you have the opportunity to kill a Hedron Crab you should take it immediately; the same is obviously true for Magus of the Bazaar. After sideboarding, your opponent will have to fight through a playset of Relic of Progenitus and things start to really look up. Ghostly Prison may seem awkward, but Dredge players will have a very difficult time trying to combo through this card in traditional Flame-Kin Zealot mode. Basically we are worried about Iona and nothing else here. If you have a Muddle the Mixture it may be wise to leave two mana open with the intention of countering Dread Return.
This match-up can be a little scary, but shouldn't be as harrowing as one might expect. Pre-sideboard, a well-timed Muddle the Mixture will often shut down their entire strategy. After board you have an additional seven ways to counter their Hypergenesis. Once you get to four mana, you can counter the Hypergenesis with buyback with Spell Burst and put them in a very awkward spot. Spellstutter Sprite may seem awkward but it works very well when we're trying to prevent an explosion. It also feels very nice when you discard a Sword of the Meek to your Thirst for Knowledge, counter a Hypergenesis the next turn with a Spellstutter Sprite, and magically find your Sword back on the battlefield.
Other match-ups, particularly red decks, seem even easier for a deck like this to shred through. The deck only plays nine rares, and most of them are very accessable. Four of the rares in the list are not even necessary to the function of the deck. This deck seems like a powerful budget option when exploring a new Extended and deciding what to play. I will be sleeving up this list and taking it to war in the coming week, and I'll be sure to write a bit about the results in next week's column. I hope you found this journey through the new Extended as exhilarating as I have. We managed to build a powerful and very budget deck for what can be an expensive format.