haos. I can only assume our adventuresome high school student of an Extended metagame was bitten by a radioactive spider. How else can we explain the explosive variation—essentially mutation—spreading throughout the PTQ field?
Many of today's contending decks bear little resemblance to their counterparts, contemporaries, and predecessors from just a couple of weeks ago. Many of the cards and core strategies are the same or similar ... but with different executions, advantages, and vulnerabilities. The dominance of Dark Depths / Thopter Foundry seems largely to have eroded ... and surprisingly, Vampire Hexmage may not even be headlining the best River of Tears deck any longer! Once straight red-green decks are splashing black or white, and cute "little kid" combos are graduating to Top 8 contenders.
Like I said: radioactive spider bite.
Last week we looked primarily at midrange green decks as a broad set of options against what appeared to be (once again?) a River of Tears–dominated Extended season. This time let us tip on our fedoras and wrap our bull whips around the Dimir House Guards, Arbor Elves, unexpected Blood Moons, and singleton planeswalkers that made Top 8—or even took home PT invites—the weekend of February 27.
First Up: Living End
1st Place - Kansas - Kansas City - 2/27
Living End is quite similar, conceptually, to the Hypergenesis / cascade combo decks. The mechanics of the deck are quite similar: You cast Demonic Dread or Violent Outburst; the only card in your deck cheap enough to cascade out is Living End. Played correctly, hilarity will ensue.
What, then, is "correctly"?
You will notice that the Living End deck plays only 19 lands. Wow, that's scary given that it is full of five-, six-, and even seven-mana threats ... except that you are not meant to actually cast those (and we use the term "threats" loosely). Almost all the creatures in the Living End deck have some kind of cycling. You put them into the graveyard the first few turns while either drawing into or looking for lands.
Meanwhile, most opponents will be trying to set up some kind of game plan involving Tarmogoyfs or other cards with little numbers located to the bottom right. When you have sufficiently dug, you can play your Demonic Dread / Violent Outburst / Living End as a combination Wrath of God and squad of threats.
Unlike many combo decks, Living End does not typically win on the spot. Instead, it generates a deep swing in board position, often 20+ power of imminent damage ... for next turn (while eliminating much of the opponent's defense).
You will notice that a good number of the creatures in this deck are also functional. For example Ingot Chewer can gnaw on an Umezawa's Jitte or Thopter Foundry; Fulminator Mage, while it doesn't have any kind of cycling, can be played regular-like, go to the graveyard while defending, and then come back for a second round of shenanigans.
There are a couple of four-mana black enchantments that are worth mentioning in Golliher's version...
1) Night of Souls' Betrayal
You can only have one in play at any point, but this card can pre-emptively stop a 20/20 token (by ensuring that its enabling Vampire Hexmage never shows up for work), or eliminate all the fruits of that Thopter Foundry. It is equally hard on Bitterblossom, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Wood Elves, and a whole host of essential puzzle pieces.
2) Leyline of the Void
You'll notice that Leyline of the Void is quite good against this deck. At no mana, it is a great option for the mirror, or against a more well-known graveyard deck, like Dredge.
Ultimately, Living End differs from its more well-known cascade counterpart in two ways:
1) It is less draw-dependant. Hypergenesis has to have something good in hand right now when its cascade combo finisher fires in order to do something valuable. Living End lets you sculpt your plan much more; you can turn bad creatures into lands or play progressively (actually playing out Fulminator Mages or hassling with any of the creatures depending on your draw) before trying to combo kill.
2) Its combination uses the graveyard. While both Living End and Hypergenesis are vulnerable to Ethersworn Canonist or Rule of Law, only Living End is also vulnerable to the piles, stacks, and volumes of graveyard-hating spells that pepper the sideboards of essentially every Top 8.
Since When Is Affinity the Pleasant Surprise?
1st Place - North Dakota - Fargo - 2/27
Once upon a time, Affinity was the boogeyman.
Personally, I don't recall that it was ever as scowled-at as Jund in Standard, or as soul-erasing as Faeries in any of its incarnations, yet more than any other deck in recent memory, Affinity was considered the villain. Tournament attendance actually declined during the reign of full-on Affinity with Æther Vial, and R&D responded with heavy hands and leaden boots.
The twelve angry men sitting around the ban-hammer (gavel, really) in Renton, WA buried Affinity in Standard, and took its eye teeth even in Extended. Many were left wondering what Ancient Den had ever done to anyone in Standard ... but it was banned in Standard, along with the rest of the cards that could be remotely played in Affinity. In Extended, there was ultimately no Disciple of the Vault or Æther Vial. Skullclamp was already long gone.
But here, years later, Affinity resurfaces ... almost pleasantly.
The main eyebrow-raiser in Siftar's list is probably Blood Moon main deck. Yes, Blood Moon turns the lands in this deck into Mountains. However there are almost no colored costs in this version (Master of Etherium and Thoughtcast only, main deck) ... and they are supported by Chromatic Star and Springleaf Drum in more than sufficient numbers.
While Blood Moon does in fact "work" on artifact lands, it doesn't actually stop them from being artifacts ... so under a Blood Moon, Nate's lands are less traditional basic Mountains (and are in fact not basic lands) than they are sort-of Great Furnaces. Make sense? Basically, the artifact-ness of his artifact lands sticks, meaning that even with Blood Moon color-screwing most opponents, Siftar would still get the benefits on Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, and Thoughtcast; the options that come with playing Fairy Godmother (a.k.a Arcbound Ravager), and Master of Etherium.
Hard to believe, yes ... but the beatdown deck that long rubbed up against combo due to its speed (and onetime reliance on Disciple of the Vault) has swung more toward a midrange disruption angle, and might, finally, have become the good guy.
Holy Sylar, Batman.
There is More Than One Way to Shift a Cat ... er ... Scape
7th Place - North Dakota - Fargo - 2/27
Obviously this deck draws on the Red-Green Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle deck we have talked about a couple of times already. It has Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows as its middle-turns Cursed Scroll, Sakura-Tribe Elder to block, Tarmogoyf and Bloodbraid Elf to attack, Kitchen Finks to block and attack ... and of course the Valakut + Scapeshift combo to deal 18 to the face at a moment's notice.
But only two copies of Scapeshift?
How is that supposed to work?
You'll notice that Corey played Dimir House Guard as a tutor. In addition to pulling his Scapeshift count to essentially three copies, Dimir House Guard let Kruckenberg find a singleton Thought Hemorrhage, or a sideboard spoiler like Cranial Extraction or Damnation.
He also brought sexy back.
And in this case, "sexy" was—and I think you will agree—Primal Command. Is there anything sexier than this card? I have generally found that resolving Primal Command generally leads to winning the game. In addition to undoing a stack of burn spells, essentially Time Walking an opponent by putting a land or other dud on top of his library, or pre-emptively ruining a Dredge or Living End player's day by shuffling up his graveyard and library (provided you have somehow lived long enough to get to five), Primal Command can go and get Dimir House Guard; that is, given sufficient time / mana, you can Primal Command for a Damnation.
8th Place - Indiana - Indianapolis - 2/27
This is what the same Red-Green Valakut strategy looks like, pushed a completely different way, adding the opposite color main.
Instead of going for more bullets, flexibility, and power, Ryan Mochal fled to the middle. Dead // Gone and a splashed quartet of Path to Exile are a main deck answers to Marit Lage tokens, Engineered Explosives much of everything else. Harmonize gets you to those answers.
What is not present?
The (previously) defining Bloodbraid Elf and Umezawa's Jitte.
That said, Ryan has something rather unique to do with his mana from the threat side ... Avenger of Zendikar! With all the searching and digging and drawing (of lands) that this deck can do, that seven actually seems a mite exciting out of the Valakut sideboard.
Because Planeswalkers are Mono-Awesome
6th Place - Florida - Ft Lauderdale - 2/27
It's well known that a defining characteristic of planeswalker cards is their awesomeness.
It was with that in mind that Chandra Ablaze cracked the mana- and threat-dense All-In Red main deck.
Basically, getting Chandra in play can be highly advantageous (some would say full-on adventuresome) against a deck that can answer one of the single monolithic threats that All-in Red is famous for producing on the first turn. It is just no fun to spend your hand for Deus of Calamity only to see the opponent smirk and spend one paltry Doom Blade to deal with it, or whatever.
Chandra Ablaze changes the math. You can play her and then run the miniature "Wheel of Fortune" move. This can pay you back (remember, you probably blew most of your hand to get Chandra in play in the first place) and give you a big edge on cards against the opponent. Played quickly enough, you will net while your opponent takes a kind of heavy Stupor. Much of the time you will be in the exact same place in terms of cards and resources ... but remember, you are the one with the powerful planeswalker already on the battlefield.
The rest of the time, All-In Red remains the most exciting deck you can play. Evaluate your opening hand. Is there something awesome lurking in that starting seven? (A third-turn Seething Song into a Demigod of Revenge alone might not be good enough to keep.) Be ready to toss it back. Be ready for awesome.
4th Place - Massachusetts - Boston - 2/27
If you're like most players, you are probably scratching your head at Ethereal Usher.
I mean I doubt Jurgis ever actually had Ethereal Usher in play; Ethereal Usher is much more functional for its ability to find Hive Mind.
So how does this crazy deck work?
You basically spend a few turns finding Hive Mind, then you jam it onto the battlefield. Then—typically the same turn—you cast one of your many Pacts. Ideally, you will want to cast a Pact the opponent can't pay for (for example, Pact of the Titan against a White Weenie deck), but that is not always necessary given the state of the game and the opponent's available mana.
Hive Mind will cast the Pact for the opponent ... who has the next turn, and will thus be on the hook for an (ideally unpayable) upkeep payment. Come next upkeep ... you might just be the winner!
Taking a Tip from Tooth
7th Place - Massachusetts - Boston - 2/27
By day, it is a regular old Faeries deck.
A little less efficient maybe—Pestermite is so seemingly out of place—but Fae still. Mostly.
But when night falls, and you get available ... you might be breaking some mirrors.
What does Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker do in this deck?
Besides "obvious" soul-crushing moves like doubling up a Spellstutter Sprite when the opponent doesn't see it coming, or stealing multiple turns with Mistbind Clique, the most important function of ye olde Mirror Breaker in this particular deck is Pestermite.
Consider the following:
It's the end of the opponent's turn; you cast Pestermite. Kiki-Jiki thinks Pestermite is very fetching and copies it. The new Pestermite untaps Kiki-Jiki.
See where this is going?
Kiki-Jiki can now make another Pestermite copy ... which will untap Kiki-Jiki. Rinse, repeat, engage in a Guy Ritchie-level of ultra-violence.
It's not quite the same as Tooth and Nail's (formerly?) preferred Kiki-Jiki kill ... but then again, this deck can easily cast Pestermite (and it is in-theme as a Faerie), while the same is not true for Sky Hussar. Unlike many of the combinations in this article (Scapeshift, for instance, usually results in only 18 damage), the Pestermite + Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker pairing is truly infinite. If you can attack at all, there should be essentially no upper limit to the amount of damage you can do in a single turn, unless the opponent also has some kind of infinite ability.
How about a more realistic setup?
You already have Pestermite on the battlefield. You curved it on turn three, and the opponent never bothered to kill your stupid 2/1. The next turn you cast Mistbind Clique, tapping your foe out at end of turn. Now you have the freedom to cast the usually fragile Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker without fear of it being destroyed on your turn. Hilarity ensues amidst a flurry of one million wings.
So there you have 'em.
Others not too new.
Half a dozen ways and more to put the opponent away with something just a little bit different than the rest of the people in the room.