Snakes rule Standard, Life from the Loam rules Extended

Posted in Feature on August 30, 2006

By Frank Karsten

The Constructed Premier events started again last week, after their break during the Coldsnap release tournaments the week before. Sure enough, the Online Standard metagame has shifted largely once again, so I'll start by covering it first. I will present the decks in a table, ranking them according to their popularity percentage (look here for an explanation if you want, but it works intuitively). A deck name in green signifies that the deck has gained in popularity, whereas a deck name in red signifies that the deck has dropped in popularity. I also put every deck's rank from last week, in order to give you an idea of how big the popularity increase/decrease actually is. I also cut off the list at 20 decks, because I do not want to swamp you with useless information on weak decks that almost no one plays. Let me know in the forums what you like and what you don't like about this format.

Deck namePopularity (1 dot = 1 percent) Last week's standing
1. Snakes■■■■■■■■■■■■■4th place
2. Solar Flare■■■■■■■■■■■■1st place
3. Hand in Hand■■■■■■■■2nd place
4. Heartbeat■■■■■■■■5th place
5. Satanic Sligh■■■■■■■■-
6. Izzetron■■■■■■7th place
7. Magnivore■■■■■3rd place
8. Ghost Dad (what is this deck?)■■■■-
9. Erayo Ninja■■■■-
10. Sea Stompy■■■9th place
11. Top Control■■■-
12. Battle of Wits■■■-
13. GhaziGlare splash Meloku■■■-
14. Ghost Husk (what is this deck? )■■-
15. G/B Aggro splash Demonfire■■-
16. Blue/White Control■■-
17. Mono Green Aggro-
18. Simic Aggro8th place
19. Gruul Aggro10th place
20. Boros Deck Wins-6th place

It seems that a lot of players have read my previous columns, since these results can hardly be pure coincidence! In Online Tech 1, Snakes was my number one deck recommendation. This week, Snakes is the most popular deck. In Online Tech 2, I introduced Erayo Ninja and Satanic Sligh. This week, those very decks have made their way into the Top 10 from basically out of nowhere. Satanic Sligh easily wins this week's big climber award, since it went from 0% to a solid 8%. On the flip side, Simic Aggro, Gruul Aggro, and Boros Deck Wins have experienced a big drop in popularity, with Boros Deck Wins having the worst downswing: from a solid 6th place rank to no Top 8 sightings at all. Sorry to see you go, Lightning Helix! My guess is that most aggro players had dropped their Gruul and Boros decks and picked up Satanic Sligh instead. I agree with the players that did just that, since in my opinion Satanic Sligh is the best red aggro deck in the format right now. The Magic Online player that made it (wefald) is a genius.

Interestingly, Coldsnap cards weren't used much. There were only a couple decks that added a Coldsnap card: Snakes included Ohran Viper, Erayo Ninja embraced Mishra's Bauble, and a couple Solar Flare decks ran Adarkar Valkyrie. There was only one deck last week that was based around a Coldsnap card – Counterbalance – and it wasn't even invented online. Rather, it came out of the Japanese Nationals. The online players caught on pretty fast, though.

Mori Katsuhiro

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Last weekend, World Champion Katsuhiro Mori won Japanese Nationals, not dropping even a match in the Standard portion with this deck. Immediately after the Top 8 decklists were public, Warriors_T and Thommo copied it and both of them promptly posted a Top 8 finish at Premier Event #809241. I really like the deck myself and I am planning to play it at my Nationals in two weeks. The deck is very clever. It is a Blue control deck with a lot of countermagic. Note that the deck does not play Mana Leak, but instead it has Remove Soul. Remove Soul is an underappreciated card and in the current metagame full of creatures it's a fine choice. The deck splashes black for Dark Confidant - arguably the best card drawer in Standard – and white for Condemn and Court Hussar. The deck does not play Wrath of God, make sure you remember that! It easily works well without Wrath of God, since the overload of countermagic can halt opposing creatures just as well and the deck runs cheap creatures itself.

The best part of the deck is Sensei's Divining Top, which is why I named the deck Top Control. The deck abuses the artifact along with Dark Confidant to avoid damage and in conjunction with Counterbalance, to counter almost every spell your opponent plays. If you have three bad cards on top, you can also use Muddle the Mixture and Court Hussar to get rid of them and to see three brand new cards with Top. The main win mechanism of the deck is Meloku the Clouded Mirror, but you can also win a game with Court Hussar and Dark Confidant beatdown, especially if one of them carries Umezawa's Jitte. The sideboard is also very solid, allowing you to adjust your deck to whatever you are facing. I love the Orzhov Pontiffs. They are golden against 1/1 Snakes and they can also boost your Meloku tokens for a surprise kill. If you like control strategies, I really urge you to check out this deck. It's wholeheartedly recommended and I think it is extremely solid. I expect this deck to be all over the place in the upcoming weeks. If you don't learn anything else in this article, you should definitely listen to me about this deck. It's great, hands down.

Other new Standard decks

Jono mizer piloted a Battle of Wits deck to a surprise Premier Event win. Yes, you heard me right: Battle of Wits. His 250-card deck was White/Blue/Black and he could fetch Battle of Wits with Diabolic Tutor, Brainspoil, and Enduring Ideal. Of course, he played good control cards such as Wrath of God, Compulsive Research, and Signets. However, because Battle of Wits requires a big deck, he had to fill it out with such luminaries as Spectral Searchlight, Counsel of the Soratami, and Sickening Shoal. Running weak cards such as those did not stop him from winning a Premier Event, so the deck might not be that bad. There is just one big downside to the deck: unless you already have an amazing online collection, it will take you a very long time to assemble all the cards.

Meloku the Clouded Mirror
I also want to feature two new twists on existing decks that had posted a Premier Event win. Dosukoifait won a Premier Event with an interesting twist on GhaziGlare. He ran the usual suspects such as Llanowar Elves, Loxodon Hierarch, Selesnya Guildmage, Umezawa's Jitte, and Glare of Subdual, but his invention was to splash blue for Meloku the Clouded Mirror. A fine addition if you ask me, since the load of mana acceleration in GhaziGlare can lead to fast Meloku tokens by turn 4 and the tokens produced have great synergy with Glare of Subdual and Selesnya Guildmage. The other remarkable Premier Event winning deck twist was courtesy of gelgep. His Snake deck splashed white for Glare of Subdual, plus Loxodon Hierarch out of the sideboard. Glare of Subdual works well with Sosuke's Summons, and since Snakes already plays Sakura-Tribe Elder, splashing an extra color is not that taxing on the mana base. I'm still leaning towards the more consistent Blue/Green version, but adding white is not a bad idea per se.

The Green/Black Aggro splashing Demonfire that you saw in the above table was created by guys18. I haven't been able to speak with him, but I can give you a general idea of his deck. He played Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves to accelerate into a turn 2 Hypnotic Specter or Ohran Viper. Those creatures are very good, since if a control deck cannot deal with them right away, the card advantage they provide will likely win you the game. When you play them on turn 2 on the play, there is not much many control decks can do about them. This deck would have never worked pre-Coldsnap with only four Hypnotic Specters as great three-drops, but Ohran Viper makes it viable. The deck also ran Dark Confidant, Putrefy, Giant Solifuge and Umezawa's Jitte, which should basically go into every aggro deck that can support them, so that's no surprise. Rounding out the deck were a couple Genju of the Cedars, Crime // Punishments, Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, and a splash for the powerful game-ending Demonfire.

Mono Green Aggro

A couple weeks ago I saw a Mono Green Aggro deck winning a Premier Event. At that time I dismissed it as a fluke. The deck played awful cards such as Skarrgan Pit-Skulk and I did not understand why a Mono Green deck could be better than a Gruul deck. After all, Gruul is Mono Green plus good red cards instead of nonsense such as Skarrgan Pit-Skulk! Last week Mono Green Aggro made another showing in a Premier Event Top 8, at which point I figured the deck might not have been a completely fluke. I sought out the player that had won a Premier Event with the deck a while ago and talked to him about his creation.

JoshuaClaytor, Mono Green Aggro

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Might of Oaks
Joshua Claytor is a featured writer for and participated in the “Battle Royale”, which is a challenge to build a deck for Standard that cost 25 dollars or less. Joshua has had a certain affinity for Might of Oaks since Urza's Legacy came out, so he always tries to play that card in casual formats. Basically he built the deck for the fun factor that is Battle Royale, got beat, and then wanted to prove that the deck was not as bad as everyone thought. He did some research, took out the awful cards and improved the deck, and then he tried it in a Premier Event. He won.

The strength of the deck is that it can deal a lot of damage in a short period of time. It is very consistent, streamlined, and focused. The deck has twelve unblockable men (Dryad Sophisticate, Silhana Ledgewalker, and Skarrgan Pit-Skulk), so these men plus enchantments that add plus 3 to 5 to the attack makes life hard for the unlucky opponent. That allows you to race past most slow creature decks such as Hand in Hand and Snakes. The main weakness of the deck is that it rolls over to Wrath of God and spot removal, mainly because of the card disadvantage the creature enchantments and pump spells impose when your creature is destroyed. Solar Flare is unwinnable, except when they mulligan to 1.

I then talked to Joshua about the impact of Coldsnap and we added a snow theme to the deck. The original version played Ghost Quarter instead of Scrying Sheets, Llanowar Elves instead of Boreal Druid, and Elvish Warrior instead of Boreal Centaur. Scrying Sheets help to get some kind of card advantage in the late game, since it can help you get past a land glut. I checked the marketplace and Scrying Sheets are going there for around 5 tickets. That is still a reasonable amount of money for a budget deck. If you don't feel like paying $200 for a mana base, but still want a deck that has a decent chance of winning, then Mono Green Aggro is a fine choice.

What's happening in the land of Extended?

I have good news and bad news. Let's get the bad news out of the way. It has been a while since I last played Extended. I knew the format inside out roughly 8 months ago, since at that time I participated in an Extended Pro Tour, multiple Extended Grand Prix, and the Extended day of the World Championships. There was also an Extended PTQ season around that time. Extended was a hot format back then. And then Extended somehow fell out of grace. I can't remember seeing an article on the Extended format on any internet site lately, nor do I recall one of my Magic friends talking about the format in the last couple months. This decline is easily explained though, by the fact that most competitive players – myself included – tend to focus solely on the formats of the upcoming Pro Tours, Pro Tour Qualifiers and Grand Prix. No major events have used the Extended format in the last eight months, therefore there is no Extended PTQ season, no Extended Grand Prix, no Extended Pro Tour, nothing. No wonder the format has gotten less love and attention. But I have to say that is a pity, since Extended is a great format with awesome decks. The large card pool can spawn crazily inventive decks and makes for a very diverse metagame.

Now on to the good news. There was one place left in the world where people did keep on playing Extended in great numbers: online. The Extended Premier Events on Magic Online kept on going steadily. Last week, I did my best to learn everything about the Online Extended metagame. I checked the replays of Premier Events and also used the Wizards Community Calendar to gather data on the entire month of August. I have to admit I was happily surprised to learn that the current Online metagame is vastly different than the paper metagame of 8 months ago. At that time, CAL, Psychatog, Friggorid, and Affinity ruled the format. Today, CAL has undergone major changes and has morphed into a different deck (Aggro Loam), Psychatog is splashing red nowadays, Friggorid has been hated out, and Tooth and Nail and Gifts Rock entered the picture. That's a lot of changes! The only seemingly steady element appears to be Affinity, which is still the same deck and it remains just about as good as eight months ago. Let's take a look at the 13 most popular decks in the metagame as it was last month, shall we?

Deck namePopularity (1 dot = 1 percent)
1. Aggro Loam■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■
2. Gifts Rock■■■■■■■■■■■■■
3. Tooth and Nail■■■■■■■■■■
4. Burning Tog■■■■■■■
5. Affinity■■■■■■■
6. Gruul Beats■■■■■■■
7. Boros Deck Wins■■■■■■
8. Heartbeat Storm Combo■■■■
9. Balancing Tings■■■■
10. Izzetron■■■
11. Scepter/Chant■■
12. Orzhov Aggro■■
13. Zoo■■

It is now official, Aggro Loam owns the format.

BottomDeck, Aggro Loam

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TerravoreReminiscent of the CAL decks of last year, Aggro Loam abuses the amazing synergy between Life from the Loam and cycling lands. It is a ridiculous card draw engine, so the deck runs 3 Life from the Loam and 4 Burning Wish maindeck, thereby maximizing the odds of drawing the deck-defining sorcery. If you feel you've drawn enough cards with the Loam plus cycling lands combo, you can discard the lands to Seismic Assault, which can kill an opponent instantly. The main difference between CAL and Aggro Loam is that Aggro Loam has replaced the control elements with aggro elements. No more discard and Solitary Confinement. Instead, you run Wild Mongrel, Terravore, burn spells, and Thoughts of Ruin. They fit in the deck perfectly. Wild Mongrel has great synergy with Life from the Loam, Terravore works well with the fetchlands, and Thoughts of Ruin can make for ridiculous starts such as turn 1 Birds of Paradise, turn 2 Terravore, turn 3 Thoughts of Ruin. Plus destroying your own lands has good synergy with Life from the Loam. The fast creatures can deal a lot of damage quickly, at which point the burn spells and Seismic Assault can finish it. Dredging a Firebolt into the graveyard also feels nice.

Aggro Loam is the best deck in the format by a landslide. I remember that CAL was the best deck eight months ago, and Aggro Loam is its natural improved evolution. Mikeman29, who had won multiple Premier Events with this deck, informed me on the matchups. According to him, Aggro Loam doesn't really have bad matchups with the exception of Heartbeat Storm Combo. Psychatog, and Scepter/Chant are hard to beat game 1, because you have no answer to Psychatog or Isochron Scepter. After sideboard those matchups get a lot better, since you can add Naturalize for Isochron Scepter and Pithing Needle for Psychatog. If you can stop those key cards, you have enough time to easily outdraw them with the Life from the Loam engine. Any aggro deck is pretty easy with the maindeck Lightning Helix and Hierarch to frustrate their burn and it's very hard for them to deal with a fast Seismic Assault. The matchup against Gifts Rock usually goes long and depends on your play skill, but you should be able to beat them more often than not.

prolepsis9, Gifts Rock

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Gifts Ungiven
Gifts Rock is the second most popular deck, and arguably the second best deck, in Online Extended. The first thing that struck me when I saw this deck was the maindeck Leyline of the Void. Wow. Doesn't that card belong in the sideboard? No. Extended truly revolves around the graveyard nowadays. Life from the Loam, Psychatog, Nostalgic Dreams, Gifts Ungiven, Firebolt, the list goes on. It is really worth it to run Leyline of the Void in your deck to shut down your opponent's graveyard recursion. The format is that crazy. That said, let's analyze this Gifts Rock deck further. It plays typical Rock cards, such as Birds of Paradise, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Eternal Witness, Cabal Therapy, Living Wish, Putrefy, and of course Pernicious Deed. Green/Black Rock control decks are as old as the format itself, and this deck builds on that archetype. But Gifts Rock adds something extra. As the name might suggest, it runs blue for Gifts Ungiven.

A typical Gifts setups is Genesis, Eternal Witness, Cabal Therapy, and another card, for example Pernicious Deed. The best thing your opponent can do is usually to put Genesis and Cabal Therapy in your hand. After all, if he chooses to put Genesis in the graveyard, he has put it right where you want it to be. Nevertheless, you can still get Genesis in the graveyard by sacrificing him to flashback Cabal Therapy. Then, you can return Eternal Witness, which in turn gets Pernicious Deed back. You blow up the board, including Eternal Witness, which is then in the graveyard once again, ready to be recurred by Genesis once more. This is only one of the many Gifts setups you can do with this deck. You can also go for a life gain package in Living Wish, Loxodon Hierarch, Ravenous Baloth, and Eternal Witness against burn decks. Or you can select 4 lands if you're mana light. I can't cover all the options, since there are so many, but with Cabal Therapy, Deep Analysis, and Genesis in the deck, Gifts Ungiven is ridiculously powerful since many of those cards are just as good in the graveyard as in your hand. Not to mention how good it is to include Eternal Witness in the four cards you search with Gifts. The sideboard includes silver bullets for Living Wish, ranging from Boseiju, Who Shelters All against counterdecks to Withered Wretch against graveyard dependant decks. Furthermore, the sideboard features discard spells to put in against control or combo decks. Rock Gifts is rock solid against the entire metagame, with the exception of 1 deck: Tooth and Nail. It's very hard to beat that, since none of your cards truly disrupt their combo.

That's it for now. I gave you the two best and most popular decks in Extended and I will get back to the rest of the format at a later time.

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