Go Go Katana Blade!

Posted in Feature on February 16, 2005

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

This week's PTQ Top 8 decks give us a great look at how the Extended format is continuing to evolve. Decks from the Top 8 of GP Boston that were not a part of the expected metagame -- decks like the first place Aluren deck and especially the new Temporary Solution deck -- are picking up adherents, with Ben Dempsey's creation especially taking top positions and even a slot.

But in the rich tapestry of the Extended format, a format with maybe twenty distinct, viable, choices, two things stand out to me this week like nothing else.

#1 Didn't these guys get the memo?

Over the ten sets of PTQ Top 8 lists that I've studied so far from the latest batch of Qualifier decks (and by the time you're reading this, Greg Collins and company will probably have even more up), variants on The Rock are present 11 times -- more than one copy per Top 8 --and one even took the blue envelope!

Top commentators have been naysaying B/G since the Pro Tour, when The Rock was the most popular deck but failed to make Top 8. Yet PTQ players seem to be adopting The Rock anyway. The version that won this past weekend in Osaka actually met itself in a rogue Rock mirror in the finals.

Which brings us to #2

The Japanese sure love their Swords

I got it when Satoshi Nakamura played Sword of Fire and Ice in his Squirrel Prison deck back in Columbus. U/G doesn't have any fundamental creature kill, and protection from red can really help against a deck like Goblins or Red Deck Wins, especially when your deck is full of tiny green creatures. In that creature heavy deck, Sword of Fire and Ice fills specific holes, and can turn wimps like Birds of Paradise or Wood Elves into legitimate threats. I got it a lot less last week, when I saw Jun'ya Iyanga's version of Red Deck Wins playing the Sword.

Jun'ya Iyanga / Red Deck Wins

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Sorcery (3)
3 Firebolt
Instant (6)
4 Overload 2 Lava Dart
Enchantment (4)
4 Seal of Fire
60 Cards

To me, the main advantage of Red Deck Wins is all the burn it can play, and Iyanga's finalist build lacks the deck's best burn spell, Cursed Scroll... Yet it plays Sword of Fire and Ice! My friend Josh Ravitz posits that this creature poor Red Deck Wins makes up for its lack of burn with a solid Sword hit, and can even leave in Jackal Pup in the mirror. That I could accept... but Tatsuya Oonishi's deck?

Tatsuya Oonishi / The Rock

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Who would have thought that someone would play twice as many copies of Sword of Fire and Ice as Pernicious Deed in The Rock? It's awfully hard to argue with success, though, especially when the second place deck in the same tournament is also The Rock with one Pernicious Deed and multiple Swords, nearly a true mirror.

Imagine my surprise to see not just a Sword of Fire and Ice but a Sword of Light and Shadow in Ben Hakanson's third place Rock deck from Salt Lake City.

Ben Hakanson / The Rock

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Once upon a time, I would point new players to this article as a primer on playing The Rock, but these days, it looks like the old theory of disrupting the opponent's much more broken or synergistic strategy with Duress or Cabal Therapy, controlling the board with Pernicious Deed, and finishing with a big threat once the opponent is on the ropes have to take a back seat to Rancor beats, the return of Call of the Herd, and equipment that didn't see much play in Mirrodin block.

One development that I never would have predicted (but made me smile nevertheless) was Draco-Explosion's win in Knoxville.

Shaun Mack / Draco-Explosion

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Creature (3)
3 Draco
Artifact (2)
2 Scroll Rack
Other (4)
4 Fire/Ice
60 Cards

Draco-Explosion is a cool combination deck that first showed up in the hands of Jinpei Hassaku at PT Houston two years ago. This deck works under the theory that most players will deal four damage to themselves with cards like Wooded Foothills or Sulfurous Springs, and has been called the Donate that doesn't gain 20 life in the middle of the combo.

The deck can use cards like Brainstorm or Scroll Rack (or in some versions, Vampiric Tutor) to put Draco on top. One Erratic Explosion later and the opponent has taken 16. Cards like Fire/Ice, Earthquake, Volcanic Hammer, or just plain Faerie Conclave beats make up any remaining life.

Draco-Explosion was refreshing when it came out, and is distinguished as being a two-card combination. Most of even the most successful Extended combos require more than two cards (for example, Life requires say a Nomads en-Kor, a Daru Spiritualist, and a Worthy Cause, even if it can interchange specific cards). Draco on the other hand has room for strong card drawing and legitimate control elements like Counterspell, not just combination pieces.

All of that said, my vote for the killer deck of the week is Kazuki Kurashima's Top 4 deck from Osaka. If you go through the Top 8 listings for this week, you will see many decks that aspire to the heights of Ben Dempsey or Nick West. Rather than just tweaking the number Meddling Mages or Exalted Angels or eliminating creatures entirely, Kurashima's deck is truly innovative. Much like Lucas Glavin hybridized Cephalid Breakfast and Life for GP Boston, Kurashima saw the synergies between Nick West's NO Stick and Odyssey Block's Solitary Confinement deck. Kurashima's deck adds a whole other combo deck to the West skeleton. His version can not only just lock the opponent down with Isochron Scepter, but with Solitary Confinement. The loss of Accumulated Knowledge is considerable in this build, especially with its 21 land only, but Kurashima makes up for this with Compulsion + Squee, Goblin Nabob.

Kazuki Kurashima / Scepter Chant

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Isochron Scepter
The standard NO Stick deck seeks to set up Isochron Scepter with a relevant imprint -- usually Orim's Chant or Fire/Ice -- to contain the opponent's game. Notice that although Fire/Ice and Orim's Chant are key components to NO Stick, Kurashima plays only three copies of each main deck. Three is a subtle number in this kind of deck design: it is exactly the number required to Intuition for a card as you would a Demonic Tutor (by getting all three copies and keeping one), but three also allows Kurashima to play a fourth copy of each instant in his sideboard. This fourth copy is a Cunning Wish target, meaning that Kurashima is actually playing more like six Orim's Chants than three.

The core combination for the Solitary Confinement side of the deck is Squee, Goblin Nabob + Solitary Confinement. Most Extended decks have no way to beat a player with Solitary Confinement in play other than to hope he runs out of cards. With Squee in the picture, Solitary Confinement should never run out. As already stated, Squee serves other interactions, notably as a free card when broken by either Compulsion or Intuition. Squee gets even better with Brainstorm and any shuffling device (Enlightened Tutor, Flooded Strand, or a second Intuition).

It is interesting to note that while the standard West deck is poor against Red Deck Wins, Kurashima's deck can create a hard lock with just a Solitary Confinement and a single Squee. Because he never has to draw again, the Confinement will win the game by decking the Red Deck Wins deck. That said, this version of U/W is even worse against The Rock than most. Kurashima has little resistance to Duress and Cabal Therapy, and because his deck requires significant investment to the board -- Compulsion, Isochron Scepter, Solitary Confinement, etc., Pernicious Deed becomes even more deadly. That said, if the opponent is not prepared, or if he is playing a single-minded beatdown or combination deck, it is unlikely that he will be able to withstand this deck's powerful defensive measures.

I hope you enjoyed this overview of the week's decks. Check out all the lists here for the information you'll need to cut a swath through any sharks that get in your way to the fabled prize of the Blue Envelope.

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