It has been one year almost exactly since Pro Tour–Austin crowned the last Pro Tour champion using the Extended format. That man was Brian Kibler, but the world of Extended he bested in Texas last year is decidedly different than the one a record setting number of players are battling with here in Amsterdam. Setting aside the fact that from year to year formats change as new cards enter, a key change has completely altered what the world of Extended looks like: the rotation change that switched the number of sets that are in the format at any one time. While previously Extended contained up to seven years of Magic sets, the new rules allow for just over half that amount, with blocks reaching back four years. That means for Pro Tour–Amsterdam, the following blocks and sets are legal:
Time Spiral block
Lorwyn and Shadowmoor blocks
Shards of Alara block
Tenth Edition, Magic 2010, and Magic 2010.
So how is that different from a year ago, before the announcement? It removes Ravnica, Coldsnap, Champions of Kamigawa, and Mirrodin (and the sets attached to each of those blocks) from the equation. In addition, the banning of two cards, Sword of the Meek and Hypergenesis, significantly alters the power level of some decks.
In a blog entry from the last Extended Pro Tour, Josh Bennett highlighted a host of combos that were quite prevalent in the Extended world (you can read that blog here). Many of them are no longer operational. Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths lost the legendary land portion of the combo as Coldsnap rotated. Cascading into Hypergenesis was kyboshed with the banning of the aforementioned suspend spell, though some intrepid players have battled onwards using the cascade mechanic to cast Living End or Restore Balance instead. Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek decks lost the Equipment to power that engine (again via banning rather than rotation), and Martyr of Sands decks lost, well, the Martyr.
Each of those changes is significant to the format, but two combos have managed to survive to this year: Scapeshift for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and the Pro Tour winning strategy of Grove of the Burnwillows and Punishing Fire. But perhaps the key combo that has been lost to the new format rules is the one between the Ravnica block dual lands and the fetch lands from Zendikar. Mimicking the interaction from the world of Legacy, the combination of Misty Rainforest being able to hunt up Stomping Ground and allow a fully powered Wild Nacatl on the second turn was utterly critical to the identity of Extended one year ago. This weekend that interaction is gone, though some players have been using Murmuring Bosk as a replacement by combining it with Loam Lion to replace Wild Nacatl.
Another significant impact on the format is the loss of Umezawa's Jitte. The Betrayers of Kamigawa rare has been a powerful spell since the first format it saw play in, Kamigawa Block Constructed, but with the rotation of the Kamigawa block the Equipment is no longer a tool for creature decks to rely on. That means creature mirrors will have to find other tools to combat one another.
Dredge, a strategy powerful enough to make the Top 8 in the hands of future Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe, has all but lost its namesake mechanic with the rotation, so you might assume the deck itself needs a tombstone. But it should come as no surprise, when you think about it, that Dredge is back from the dead. Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp, and Golgari Thug may be gone, but Dakmor Salvage is still waving the dredge banner, backed up by Hedron Crab and Memory Sluice—yes, Memory Sluice!
Though things have changed, in many ways they have stayed the same. The Grove of the Burnwillows / Punishing Fire combo is still powerful, and numerous decks are playing it. Tarmogoyf, perhaps the most famous of Future Sight's rares, is still one of the most important creatures in the format. And though Hypergenesis is gone, as already mentioned, players are still trying to abuse cascade with other free suspend spells from Time Spiral by catching an opponent off guard via Restore Balance or Living End.
Of course, with a new format come new innovations, and the world's best players have stepped up to the plate. A few new combos have emerged, most noticeably Ad Nauseam and Angel's Grace. By casting the split second spell, you prevent yourself from dying to the massive card-drawing engine. That allows you to draw your entire deck. From there you simply exile four Simian Spirit Guides, cast a Conflagrate for zero from your hand, then use its flashback with the remaining mana to deal a lethal blow to your opponent with the tons of cards you have in your grip.
While the Ravnica dual lands are no longer available, Murmuring Bosk is a functional proxy. A group of mostly American pros are using that land to fuel up Loam Lions, and they're valuing it so highly they're even playing a full set of Treefolk Harbingers to help find it! Of course, considering the fact that their Zendikar fetch lands do the job of fetching up the tri-dual just fine, those 0/3s are just as often calling forth Doran, the Siege Tower as they are the Bosk. And thanks to Doran's special ability, Loam Lion functions as a Wild Nacatl when the 0/5 is on the battlefield. Pyromancer Ascension, Burn, Bant, Faeries, Reveillark ... all are strategies that have been seen on the floor this weekend as the world gets a feel for the new format.
So what can you expect from the world of Extended? Early reports indicate it is a thriving, healthy format with lots of archetypes and cool interactions brought to you by the world's very best players. You'll be able to find deck techs and updates throughout the weekend as we examine just what it is exactly that players are playing at the event, but rest assured that while Extended has changed, the fact it is a fun, dynamic, entertaining format has stayed the same.