riginally I was just going to call this one "Unprecedented" but then I realized there was probably precedent, and maybe even more impressive precedent ... even if the story is cool.
I mean I bet, once upon a time, there was some PTQ from the Netherlands that featured a Top 8 with every member of Von Dutch—Jelger Wiegersma, Kamiel Cornelissen, and Jeroen Remie—plus (say) Tom Van de Logt and Julien Nuijten, with Bram Snapvengers as the TO.
There must have been.
But a recent Connecticut PTQ had a pretty good Top 8, too; probably the most decorated, I'd wager, in the history of these United States:
I would call your attention to three players and strategies in particular:
What made the Top 8 so unprecedented?
Osyp Lebedowicz, Jake Van Lunen, and Chris Lachmann.
How often do you see a PTQ Top 8 featuring three Pro Tour Champions? (Osyp won PT–Venice in 2003, and the Sliver Kids took San Diego in 2007.)
Now, this Top 8 is a few weeks old at this point, but I thought it would be a good place to pick up our discussion of Winter 2010's Extended PTQ season. With Worldwake previews and theme weeks, it has been some time since Top Decks has devoted Thursday space to, you know, some top decks.
Osyp Lebedowicz's Thopter Foundry Combo
Extended - 6th place, PTQ for PT-San Juan in Hartford, CT
Let's start with Osyp's deck ... and it's a goodie!
For those of you who don't know, this deck is kinda, sorta a combo deck. Superficially, Osyp's deck is a flexible white-blue board control deck. It uses the usual suspects Path to Exile and Repeal to fight Kird Apes and 20/20 tokens both. Day of Judgment and Wrath of God, in a mix, LEGO together with Gifts Ungiven ... er ... sometimes, at least.
But the reason a deck like this is worth playing in a powerful format like Extended is the two-card stop sign that is Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek.
You can sacrifice Sword of the Meek to Thopter Foundry to produce a 1/1 ... which will trigger Sword of the Meek to return it to the battlefield. In this way, you can produce a 1/1 (and gain 1 life of course) with every available mana. While not a one-turn win like Vampire Hexmage + Dark Depths or a sufficiently large Scapeshift for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and friends, the Thopter Foundry combo gives a deck like Osyp's quite a bit of room.
For one thing, the incremental life boost can buy a turn, even against seemingly insurmountable damage. The 1/1 tokens can hold off Marit Lage indefinitely. And of course, you get power equal to your available mana to eventually kill the opponent.
Osyp is a firm believer that the classic two-card combo is not enough in and of itself. Again, producing a small number of 1/1 flying buckets of extra life is nice, but "sometimes you just have to go infinite" ... That's where Krark-Clan Ironworks comes in. This card allowed Osyp to create a loop of infinite power and infinite life.
You can sacrifice a single Thopter token for two mana.
Each of these mana can then be used to sacrifice Sword of the Meek to the Thopter Foundry to produce an additional 1/1 token creature. One or both can be converted via Ironworks to net mana, again to produce more and more tokens—attacking power—plus nearly limitless life.
Osyp actually lost a mirror in the Connecticut Top 8 to another Thopter Foundry deck:
Extended - 4th Place, PTQ for PT-San Juan in Hartford, CT
This deck is similar to Osyp's, but plays Time Sieve instead of Ironworks. The two cards each have different incentives, but also have different weaknesses. Ironworks is more expensive, but Time Sieve costs black mana and can be stopped by Spell Snare (the forced black-mana component being particularly onerous). On the other hand, Time Sieve can be found with Muddle the Mixture. In any case, with five Thopters on the battlefield, Time Sieve allows you to take essentially infinite turns .... Just don't accidentally sacrifice the Time Sieve itself!
The deck of the tournament—that tournament, anyway—was Mono-Forest Combo—in other words, Elves. To the best of my knowledge, the deck was played by only two people (two Pro Tour winners, that is), both made Top 8, and one—Jake—won!
Jacob Van Lunen's Mono-Forest Combo
Extended - Winner, PTQ for PT-San Juan in Hartford, CT
So how does this deck work?
There are actually multiple, potent routes to victory.
In the first game, this deck can play one of at least two different combinations. The first one is the classic Glimpse of Nature combo; cast Glimpse, then cast multiple one mana Elves, drawing a card each time, setting up ideally two Nettle Sentinels and one Heritage Druid. You can tap the three for , cast, say, a one-mana Elf (leaving ), draw a card, untap both Sentinels, add another to pool, cast another one-mana Elf ... and so on until you draw as much of your deck as you need.
The second combination (or set of combinations) is based on Cloudstone Curio.
You can pick up a creature for every creature you cast when Cloudstone Curio is on the battlefield, so having Curio can allow you to create literally infinite loops.
Turn 1: Forest, Llanowar Elves
Turn 2: Forest, Cloudstone Curio
Turn 3: Nettle Sentinel, Heritage Druid, tap for ; Elvish Visionary (returning Heritage Druid to hand), untap Nettle Sentinel, in pool; Heritage Druid, tap for , return Elvish Visionary to hand ... and so on.
The Visionary can keep your deck moving as you break even or net mana, even without Glimpse; a decent stream of one-mana Elves will allow you to continue indefinitely, as will a second Nettle Sentinel.
With two Nettle Sentinels, you can combo off with Essence Warden, not drawing more cards, but alternating between Heritage Druid and Essence Warden (continually untapping your Sentinels) to produce infinite life.
You can substitute Summoner's Pact at some point to find a combo piece, and potentially net mana with Nettle Sentinel(s).
The Mono-Forest Combo deck may be the fastest deck in the format. With a perfect draw including two Nettle Sentinels and Cloudstone Curio, Llanowar Elves, and of course Heritage Druid, the deck can actually win on turn two!
Most of the actual kills involve using either Elvish Visionary or Glimpse of Nature to burn through the deck—while playing many cards—to find and Storm up Grapeshot (usually after a Manamorphose setup).
The beauty of this deck is its Haterator sideboard. You can go Umezawa's Jittes against deck that want to attack, or heavy up the Blood Moons against Dark Depths or decks with a lot of nonbasic lands. Card advantage-generating artifact removal is a pain for many decks, but those six Blood Moons are particularly nasty here, coming out on the second turn.
Kyle Stoll's Scapeshift Aggro
Extended - 1st Place, PTQ for PT-San Juan in Chicago, IL
This is without a doubt my favorite archetype in the current Extended format.
It is a straightforward—yet competitive—red-green beatdown deck. Filled with basically all my favorite cards ... Sakura-Tribe Elder, Umezawa's Jitte, and even non-Kamigawa block cards like Kitchen Finks and Treetop Village ... a deck like Stoll's can put the opponent on a clock, and dominate the battlefield in most "fair fight" situations.
In addition, this deck can flip over Punishing Fire with Bloodbraid Elf, and lock out all but the biggest creatures with Grove of the Burnwillows.
Truly this is a magnificent hybrid beatdown deck.
... Oh yeah, it is also a savage combo deck!
With seven lands on the battlefield, this deck can cast Scapeshift to find Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and six Mountains to hit the opponent for 18. Unlike in blue-based Scapeshift decks, the red-green version rarely has to worry about 18 not being enough damage, because it is such an aggressive deck, hammering with third-turn Bloodbraid Elf, making Tarmogoyf look good with its variety of creatures, instants, and sorceries, or at least chipping away at the other player's life total with the Cursed Scroll–like Punishing Fire.
Which leaves us with the deck du jour.
Grand Prix Champion and master deck designer Gerry Thompson has done it again!
Gerry Thompson's Hybrid Combo
Extended – Winner, PTQ for PT-San Juan on Magic Online
Gerry brewed up this hybrid of two different combo decks, finished second in an online PTQ with it ... and bounced back, battling his way to a first-place Blue Envelope less than 24 hours later!
So how does this deck work?
Half of the deck is the standard Hexmage / Dark Depths masterpiece ... four Vampire Hexmages, four Dark Depths, more Duresses and Thoughtseizes than you often see, four copies of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.
Oops, I won?
This deck can play turn-one Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, then Duress your answer, follow up with Dark Depths and Hexmage, and kill you on the third turn.
But that's nothing new ....
Gerry's innovation was to realize that the Muddle the Mixture engine was applicable to another combo ... in fact, one that we've discussed twice in this article already! You'll notice that he played one copy of Thopter Foundry, and one copy of Sword of the Meek in his main deck. This second combination helps make the deck irresistible.
The Vampire Hexmage / Dark Depths combo is—in the shadow of Mono-Forest Combo—the second-fastest kill in the format, but it is somewhat vulnerable to disruption. Path to Exile is one of the most common spells in Extended, and a simple one-mana Repeal is even more profitable for the defending player. By adding Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek, Gerry's deck gains a second combination, one meant to carry his deck through longer games.
There are a number of decks that can play multiple combinations—for example, Martyr of Sands / Emeria, the Sky Ruin and Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek in the same deck (the Martyr of Sands can even return a Sword of the Meek from the graveyard pre-Thopter Foundry). But most of these decks play multiple combinations that are all reliant on the graveyard. One Relic of Progenitus can ruin several angles of attack.
Gerry's deck, however, plays only one of its combinations from the graveyard. The Hexmage / Depths combination is completely independent. If the opponent casts Pithing Needle naming Thopter Foundry, Gerry can use his Muddles to get the other combination—and vice-versa.
So these are some of the most impressive decks making up the pre-Worldwake Extended PTQ landscape ... but as we all know, there won't be a pre-Worldwake format for very much longer. What are some of the cards that will help define and change the format, mix things up, and open the doors to more, and more interesting, hybrid combo decks (which all of these are)? Following are five strong contenders (plus an honorable mention):
The format is littered with Tormod's Crypts and Ravenous Traps ... Extended players are not shy about giving up a card in order to annihilate the opponent's graveyard. Bojuka Bog offers the same functionality, but at no opportunity cost.
The potential down side is that you can theoretically only use this ability during your own main phase (which is useful against a fair number of Hedron Crabs, or against a Sword of the Meek left in the graveyard after a Thirst for Knowledge). Tormod's Crypt, Ravenous Trap, and Relic of Progenitus can all fire off in response to the opponent's use of the graveyard to actually "do something" (waking up a Narcomoeba, in response to a Dread Return) .... Bojuka Bog can't.
... Unless you are playing Knight of the Reliquary. Then, it's basically a Ghost Quarter: a surgical tool to stop a particular combo, readily available in your deck, that costs you very little to play.
I don't think Tectonic Edge will usurp Ghost Quarter's position in the field, but instead carve out a whole new niche.
Can you imagine this in a Life from the Loam deck? You won't completely lock down the opponent's mana, but given a synergy with Life from the Loam, or even Crucible of Worlds, Tectonic Edge should be ready for rock and roll, and quickly.
Dark Depths might be too quick to care, but Academy Ruins is not.
Kird Ape has fallen out of favor in mid-range Zoo decks, but that may be a product of its mana requirements as much as the opportunity cost of playing it. Loam Lion fits in more smoothly in decks that already run Bant Charm or Baneslayer Angel alongside Noble Hierarch.
Perhaps more compelling will be Loam Lion in "one-drop" Zoo, along with predecessor Kird Ape and the ubiquitous Wild Nacatl, going for broke offensively.
This will be powerful in particular online, where the Lightning Bolt Deck is more common than it is paper PTQs, Kor Firewalker will pose a nearly unbeatable threat to red decks. Unlike previous cards like Soul Warden (who was not hard to kill), Kor Firewalker has protection from red; unlike predecessors like Auriok Champion, Kor Firewalker is large and fast enough to pose a legitimate threat.
Probably the strongest Worldwake card in Extended, Treasure Hunt is already being discussed everywhere. It is a natural teammate to Ponder and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but more importantly, it gives blue decks legitimate action in the first few turns.
Honorable mention. Arcbound Ravager, yes ... Marit Lage, no. Still, one of the cheapest, most flexible cards two mana can buy.