How Extended Works

Posted in Top Decks on March 25, 2010

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."

The 2009-2010 Extended PTQ season hasn't wound down yet, but it sure is winding. It is during long stretches like this one that we can be particularly grateful that Magic is a dynamic game that changes in near-fundamental ways several times per year. And while we are at a point where most of the oohs and ahs of deck design have already been exhaled by an adoring fan base, Magic can still remind us of what we love—both as players and as fans of the game—with its sparkly-shiny surprises.

Katsuhiro Mori

This past weekend's Grand Prix–Yokohama, for example, demands some bona fide hat doffing. While we can marvel less at the deck innovation of the finalists' weapons of choice, the fans among us have got to love the Finals finale between two of Japan's greatest Pro Tour Champions, battling it out for the big gold cup.

Katsuhiro Mori is a master of the World Championships, everywhere a World Championships, having made three Top 8s in a row, including a win (numerous strong Grand Prix Top 8s notwithstanding). This particular Top 8 (a win itself) featured Mori with the consensus deck to beat ... and no one proved capable of beating it.

Katsuhiro Mori's Thopter/Depths

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We have looked at variations on this theme on numerous occasions this season. In our opinion ... It's still the best. The deck is a fully functional—and, perhaps more importantly, fully fast—Dark Depths / Vampire Hexmage combo deck, capable of one of (if not the) dumbest openings in modern Extended:

1. Urborg, Thoughtseize (taking your answer)
2. Dark Depths, Vampire Hexmage

... this is a furious threat deck, more dangerous, more quickly, than basically any other option.

Vampire Hexmage erases all the time required to set up the usually ponderous Dark Depths, putting a 20/20 threat on the field, attacking, as quickly as turn three.

That side of the deck also features Dark Confidant as a card drawing engine ... alongside quite a few other card-drawing spells, for example Compulsive Research and Thirst for Knowledge.

Dark Confidant
Thirst for Knowledge

The reason that this deck is so special is the hybridization with the Sword of the Meek / Thopter Foundry combo. Queue oohs and ahs. This side makes the deck extremely durable against Zoo and other beatdown decks, producing threats (or blockers) while netting life. The Thopter Foundry option is vastly superior to, say, a Bitterblossom; a game-winner all by itself, a beatdown breaker.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Mori's build features a fair number of customizations, including slightly more basic lands for Blood Moon resistance (though sacrificing some flexibility and the ability to win a long attrition mirror due to the absence of Academy Ruins); Jace, the Mind Sculptor; and a variety of creature defense options after sideboarding. We see Damnation to deal with many creatures at once (especially against swarm decks or opponents with single threats protected by Swords or who happen to be Great Sable Stags), Gatekeeper of Malakir (which actually has a delicious, if less commonly exploited, synergy with Jace), and Sphinx of Jwar Isle as a resilient solo threat should the two main-deck options be shut down by Crovax, Ascendant Hero, bounce spells, and so on.

Masashiro Kuroda's Hypergenesis

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Masashiro Kuroda

Masashiro Kuroda was the first Japanese Pro Tour Champion. He is the kind of pro who has stepped away from the game somewhat, but who demands choruses and choruses of cheers from us fans at home every time he does well. Putting his initial mark on the game by winning PT–Kobe in 2004 with a Tsuyoshi Fujita-designed Big Red deck in the face of full-on Affinity, Kuroda is exactly the kind of hero we love to follow from the virtual sidelines.

This time around, he went with what now passes for a fairly standard Hypergenesis deck.

The core of this strategy remains unchanged: Go get a three-mana cascade spell, cast it, and you can only fire off the Hypergenesis; everything else is too expensive.

Recent innovations to the strategy include Oblivion Ring and Terastodon, often Oblivion Ring PLUS Terastodon for even more comes-into-play Vindicate shenanigans. Kuroda's innovations include two basic Forests (to escape Blood Moon by playing Violent Outburst) and Akroma's Memorial.

The GP Yokahama Top 8 was rich with interesting individual card choices.

Yasunori Baba's All-In Red

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Holy Rakdos Pit Dragon!

My old Dissension preview card hasn't been seen in All-in Red (in the Extended version anyway) since the printing of Deus of Calamity and Demigod of Revenge in Shadowmoor kicked Arc-Slogger off the island ... err ... Mountain.

Rakdos Pit Dragon is pretty good even when you aren't hellbent, but with all the fast mana and overall cheap spells in this deck (minus the busty five-drops of course), it isn't hard to get empty. Rakdos Pit Dragon has some challenges in this format given the commonality of cards like Lightning Bolt, but unopposed—and with sufficient mana dumps—it can kill even more quickly than this deck's iconic five-drops. For example, you aren't empty; you attack; your opponent shrugs; you play a bunch of mid-combat fast mana ... Rite of Flame, Seething Song, a Simian Spirit Guide even. All of a sudden you are empty. Your opponent might be dead on the spot.

Kim Min-su's Doran

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So who's the real Boss?

Boss Naya standout Stoneforge Mystic makes an impressive Extended appearance alongside the highly regarded Doran, the Siege Tower and a fair squad of barely "fair" fighters.

Stoneforge Mystic allows this build of Doran to spread out beyond just a pair of Umezawa's Jittes to a little Swordsmanship, and on demand.

Knight of the Reliquary is arguably even more blissful a beater than usual. Doran—unlike most Zoo decks—can actually tap a Bojuka Bog for mana after it has laid low a Living End. Per usual, Ghost Quarter can appear against a looming Dark Depths. As usual, there are man-lands to be managed.

One of the individual inclusions I really like about this version is Great Sable Stag in the sideboard. Just like in Standard, the Stag is not the most efficient threat against all the decks, but against some ... it is unblockable if not unbeatable.

Atsuo Se's Scapeshift

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I really like Se's choice of alternate win condition.

This is a deck with main-deck Gigadrowse to help crush control (contrast against fellow Top 8 Scapeshift competitor Takashi Ishihara), but he has a daring and different way to win when he can't combo there, after sideboarding.

Oona, Queen of the Fae is advantageous on many fronts. For one thing, she is not just big, but big and Black. Look at the typical Dark Depths / Thopter deck. Smothers and Slaughter Pacts are useless. Echoing Truth and Repeal are alternately temporary measures or conditionally onerously expensive (or both). Oona herself can match mana with essentially any other dump. Plus the "Millstone" effect might just race the opposing deck if it can sufficiently stifle the Faerie Rogue plan.

I would wager that the average sideboarded game will include both a deck that can't stop an Oona without its sideboarded Damnations ... and leaving those Damnations in the sideboard.

Oona, Queen of the Fae

The short answer is that Dark Depths / Thopter Foundry is still the top deck, but there are all kinds of different decks that you can play, successfully, in this format. Hypergenesis is one, but there are all manner of Scapeshift and Zoo variants to run as well.

Speaking of which, something completely different, and quite outside the usual scrutiny of a Top 8 performer:

Kenji Tsumura's Kenji Control

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You might have a seen similar deck from Internet darling Gavin Verhey (Gavin himself credits John Treviranus). "Kenji Control" looks like a super-charged Standard deck, but it puts up a pretty good fight in Extended, too.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor gets even better with lots of fetch lands. You can "Brainstorm" away cards you don't like and shuffle them away, or set up lands or artifacts on top for Thirst for Knowledge or Compulsive Research.

The deck looks like it has only 23 lands, but the many artifacts help it play with bigger, faster, shoes. Kenji said in the coverage that he was a bye for Faeries, but the match-up gets a lot better when you can play, say, second-turn Night of Souls' Betrayal (turn one land + Chrome Mox, Dimir Signet; turn two land, face-planting four). The deck has a great many powerful fours, and at least one of them—Jace, the Mind Sculptor—can help you recover your lost card almost immediately.

The full GP Yokahama Top 8 can be found here.

So how are interesting single-card customizations accomplished in decks outside, you know, this one Grand Prix Top 8 (no matter how awesome)?

Walker Sroges's Reveillark Foundry

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Here is a hybrid Reveillark deck with, once again, the Stoneforge Mystic.

Sroges was particularly industrious, and used the Mystic to find Sword of the Meek to set up a Thopter Foundry combination! Unlike many other decks of this ilk, he can also win fair and square with his creatures or Martyr of Sands combination. Unusually for a deck like this, we don't see a deep emphasis on Plains + Emeria, the Sky Ruin. Instead Reveillark is responsible for the recursion, along with Academy Ruins (if not for creatures).

Julian Chernin's Black-Green Dark Depths

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This green version of the Dark Depths deck is every bit as capable of the deck's fastest opening as the blue-black version. Green, though, gives the deck a different set of incentives; for example Tarmogoyf as a legitimate attacker or Into the North to accelerate, fix mana, and find Dark Depths.

Into the North
Dark Depths

Rite of Consumption can kill the opponent from 20 without having to breach the spawn of a Thopter Foundry or Bitterblossom, and Umezawa's Jitte is ... Umezawa's Jitte.

Shred Memory

What do a lot of these cards have in common? These Tarmogoyfs, deadly Rites, mana accelerators, and end-game hammers? They all cost two. Shred Memory works quite hard in this deck, whether or not it is on anti–Dread Return / Living End duty.

Sam Gaard's Landfall Zoo

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Adventuring Gear!

The increasingly ubiquitous Stoneforge Mystic is having some, ahem, Serious Fun in this deck. This deck, almost too cool for its Tarmogoyfs (almost) is a landfall dream. Plated Geopede, Steppe Lynx, and the aforementioned Adventuring Gear. When Scapesift fires? Good night. Adventuring Gear makes even non-Lynxes positively meow. You know, like a Wild Nacatl.

Similar variations on this strategy go ahead and play one Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, but Gaard didn't play a whole lot of Mountains. Just be aware that that is an option if you go with a landfall Zoo variant, and that when you are playing against one ... 18 or so life might not be safe, exactly, even when you feel like you are a sitting pretty behind a wall of blockers.

So while Dark Depths / Thopter is still on top, there is no reason to play just it or one of the various Zoo builds. Even the great Kenji Tsumura is willing to wander. Standard transplants like Reveillark, other creature decks like Doran, or even an explosive, combo-deck-like version of the Tarmogoyf / Knight of the Reliquary / Lightning Bolt set.

Maybe there still are some oohs and ahs to be had.

Good luck, gamers!

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