Quick glances at Block and Standard, a complete Extended metagame breakdown, and a game theory exercise.

Extended Education

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The Constructed Premier events started again last week after their break during the Tenth Edition release tournaments. Today I will quickly cover the state of the online Time Spiral Block Constructed and Standard metagames before diving back into the Extended waters.

Time Spiral Block Constructed

There were only seven Premier Events available this week, and the amount of different decks archetypes that made Top 8s was quite low. If you're interested in Block, I suggest you take a look at the Grand Prix–San Francisco coverage (as that tournament had more players and more rounds than any online event), where Blue-Green Goyf and Blue-Black-X Teachings put the most players in the Top 8.

Deck namePopularity percentageChange since last time
1. Blue-Black-X Teachings Control■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (25%)9%
2. White-Green Tarmogoyf Aggro■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■ (23%)14%
3. White-Green-Red Predator Justice■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■ (19%)13%
4. Mono-Blue Pickles■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■ (14%)-20%
5. Blue-Green-White Blink Goyf■■■■■ (5%)1%
6. Blue-Green Tarmogoyf Aggro■■■■ (4%)0%
7. Poison Slivers■■■ (3%)0%
8. Black-Red Aggro■■■ (3%)3%
9. Mono-Black Discard Fatties■■ (2%)2%
10. White Weenie■■ (2%)2%

No real big surprises here. The White-Green-Red Predator Justice deck that Mike Flores recently showcased has been doing quite well, so I would certainly suggest a deck that can beat that (I'd stick with Blue-Black-X Teachings, as always). Mono-Blue Pickles appears to be on the decline, most likely because it tends to lose to White-Green-Red Predator Justice. Surprisingly, there were no Red Deck Wins or Black-Red-Blue Void Control decks in the Top 8s last week.

Standard

The metagame that could be observed in the Top 8 of the online Premier Events last week was pretty similar to the metagame of various National Championships (as covered in my article two weeks ago), but there were a couple interesting differences. Let's take a look. Thanks go out to Josh Clark for collecting all of last week's event results.

Deck namePopularity percentage
1. Angelfire■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■ (14%)
2. Blue-Black Teferi Control■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■ (13%)
3. Blue-Red-White Blink■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (12%)
4. Red-Green Greater Goyf■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%)
5. Rakdos Aggro■■■■ ■■ (7%)
6. NarcoBridge■■■■ ■■ (7%)
7. Green-White Glare Aggro■■■■ (5%)
8. Blue-White MartyrProclamation■■■■ (5%)
9. Blue-Red Aussie Perilous Storm■■■■ (5%)
10. Green-Black TarmoRack■■■■ (5%)
11. Solar Flare■■■■ (4%)
12. Gruul Aggro■■■ (3%)
13. Greater Boros■■■ (3%)
14. Blue-White Control■■■ (3%)
15. Blue-White-Green Blink ■■ (2%)
16. Green-Black-White Birds&Elves■ (1%)
17. Mono-Black Zombies■ (1%)
18. Orzhov Ghost Council■ (1%)
19. Project X■ (1%)
20. Mono-Blue Pickles■ (1%)

Angelfire was the number one deck, although a couple of those may have been Blue-Red-White Blink decks—it can sometimes be hard to make a proper classification if the Top 8 games were short and did not show many cards. Anyhow, Lightning Angel is a clear superstar in this format and Aethermage's Touch appears to have made its way out of most Blink decks, showing a preference towards consistency over potential random power.

AethermageAnother very interesting observation is that Blue-Black Teferi Control (like Conrad Kolos's deck from U.S. Nationals; the evolution of Dralnu du Louvre) is in second place in my chart. This type of deck was very strong before Tenth Edition, but I expected it would get significantly worse after losing Rewind and all the Dragonstorm decks to prey upon. It did not make much of a showing in the various Nationals up 'til now, but the performance of the deck on Magic Online—Top 8 wise—has been stellar.

Furthermore, Red-Green Greater Goyf (a nice name for Sadin's mono-red deck with lots of burn and Greater Gargadon synergy, splashing Tarmogoyf) is doing better than Rakdos Aggro or regular Gruul Aggro online. And there were some new decks, such as Blue-White MartyrProclamation and Greater Boros. But I will talk about Standard more in depth next week, mostly because I doubt that the results of these few online events will have a large influence on how the Standard metagame all over the world is going to shape up. In a couple days (next weekend) a couple high-profile National Championships will take place: the Belgian, German, Dutch, and Japanese Nationals, amongst others. Therefore, what I could tell you now may be invalidated by next week, so I'll wait one week to share my knowledge (at which point I will have also done lots of extra playtesting, so I'll have more useful things to tell). I'm sure that the Standard decks coming out of those Nationals tournaments—especially the Japanese one, as they traditionally break the format—will give a better indication of what to expect in Standard tournaments in the next month. So tune in next week to read all about my playtesting for the Dutch Nationals and my thoughts on what I think the best choices are from all the known decks and new innovative ones.

Extended

While I think that the Grand Prix results or the upcoming Nationals results are going to be more relevant than the online Premier Events for people interested in Block and Standard, this does not hold true for the Extended format. There have simply not been many big real life important events for it lately. However, Extended is going to be very relevant about six weeks from now due to Pro Tour–Valencia, and the last time I covered it is already almost three months ago. Therefore, today I will look at the current state of the Extended format in detail. The following table describes the total online Top 8 metagame of all events from July 9 to August 26. That encompasses 18 events in total, most of which had less than 32 players. I lumped all the pre-Tenth and post-Tenth events together, as I did not see a Tenth Edition card that made an impact on Extended.

Deck namePopularity percentageChange since last time
1. Boros with Goyf■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■ (14%)+4% (compared to old Boros before Future Sight)
2. TEPS Desire■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■ (14%)+7%
3. Aggro Loam■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■ (13%)-1%
4. Blue-Black CounterTop Tog■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%)+11%
5. Enduring Ideal■■■■■ (5%)+1%
6. Gifts Rock■■■■■ (5%)-8%
7. Affinity■■■■■ (5%)-4%
8. Red Deck Wins with Goyf■■■■■ (5%)+5%
9. Mono Blue GiftsTron■■■ (3%)+1%
10. Green-Black-Blue Turbo Grow■■■ (3%)+3%
11. Goblins■■ (2%)-2%
12. Blue-White (Gifts) Tron■■ (2%)-2%
13. Domain Zoo■■ (2%)0%
14. NarcoBridge Ichorid■■ (2%)+2%
15. Flow Rock■ (1%)-5%
16. Blue-Red-White Trinket Angel■ (1%)-2%
17. King in the Castle■ (1%)+1%
18. Mono Black Zombies■ (1%)+1%
19. Blue-Green Gifts Tron■ (1%)+1%
20. Aggro Flow Rock■ (1%)-2%

There are four clear top decks: Boros with Goyf, TEPS Desire, Aggro Loam, and Blue-Black CounterTop Tog. Those four decks combined made up over half of the Premier Event Top 8 field and they all had significantly better numbers than the decks on fifth place and lower. I will show representative lists of all these four decks in order to give you an idea of what the best performing decks look like.

the_bestdude's Boros with Goyf


Tarmogoyf is probably even better in Extended...
Boros Deck Wins is not a new deck; people have been burning with red decks—that try to reduce the opponent's life total to zero as quickly as possible—for a while now. This deck runs the best cheap white and red creatures in the format, like Kird Ape and Isamaru, Hound of Konda. These are highly aggressive and very mana efficient. After the opponent is down to 10 life or less this deck will just throw some burn spells in the face to end it once and for all.

A spectacular new addition to this deck is Tarmogoyf, as can be seen in the above deck by the_bestdude (Jacek S.). It is not only dominating Standard and Block Constructed. Tarmogoyf is probably even better in Extended, because everyone plays fetch-lands (this deck runs nine, which makes the mana pretty consistent) and most decks fill their graveyards rather quickly. Aggro Loam can quickly dredge all card types—okay, not Tribal or Planeswalker—into its graveyard. Blue-Black CounterTop Tog could play Thirst for Knowledge discarding Chrome Mox. And Boros itself has a good mix of damage-dealing sorceries and instants, not to mention creatures that will inevitably go to the graveyard. Tarmogoyf is truly golden in Extended. In Standard or Block it is sometimes just an 0/1 or 1/2 if you are unlucky. But in Extended it will almost always be a 3/4 or larger. Splashing it definitely improves the Boros decks.



FakeShaver's TEPS Desire

This combo deck has been around since last year's World Championships, and it hasn't changed much since. A quick summary on how this deck works for those of you who are new to the game: this deck wins with mana "rituals" (Rite of Flame, Seething Song, Cabal Ritual, Chrome Mox, Channel the Suns, Lotus Bloom) and Mind's Desire (along with Burning Wish and Infernal Tutor to search for the storm card). The aim is to sit there and do nothing for a while, and then go off usually around turn 3-4, in which everything happens. You sacrifice your Invasion saclands for lots of mana, play some rituals, use Chromatic Star to fix your mana and dig deeper in your deck, and then play a Mind's Desire for around six copies. You hope to flip another Desire or a Sins of the Past (which can re-use the Desire already in your graveyard), which will be for an even higher storm count and so on. Eventually the kill is Tendrils of Agony, or if things don't go as planned, Burning Wish for Empty the Warrens can also do some harm.

The above deck is a solid version, and its pilot Fakeshaver (Ben A.) could be called the best TEPS player in the online world based on his results in the latest events; that's why I featured his list. He has Krosan Grips in the board against Counterbalance and Orim's Chant against opposing Chants and other hate cards. If you can deal with the annoying stuff, this deck is unstoppable. However, according to about2rock, who placed in the Top 8 of the 4x Premier Event last Sunday, this deck wouldn't be nearly as good as it is now if Chants were cheaper, alluding to the fact that an Orim's Chant mid-combo will screw this deck over and to the ridiculous price of Chants in the online marketplace.

NinjaVanish's Aggro Loam with Goyf

Aggro Loam has also been around for a year, and anyone who has played some Extended lately will have certainly encountered it. It still abuses the amazing synergy between Life from the Loam (which can be fetched with Burning Wish) and cycling lands for massive card advantage. Aggro Loam also has an aggro element with Terravore and friends. The fast creatures can deal a lot of damage quickly, at which point a well-timed Seismic Assault or Devastating Dreams can finish it.

Most online versions were very similar to the Japanese Loam versions from GP–Dallas or GP–Singapore that were held a bunch of months ago. But quite recently a new version has cropped up that makes an interesting tweak. It includes a green creature from Future Sight. Indeed: Tarmogoyf. I already discussed how good it is in Extended, and it makes a particularly fine addition to Aggro Loam, because it can quickly dredge through its deck. The above version includes Goyf instead of the traditional Wall of Roots, but I have also seen versions that have cut Dark Confidant for it.

Mamut Mamutowicz's Blue-Black CounterTop Tog

Once again, not a completely new deck. This deck has a typical Psychatog Control base, sporting the namesake Mr. Teeth that eats graveyards to go lethal, Counterspells for permission, Thirst for Knowledge to draw cards, and Smother to kill stuff. So far it's pretty similar to the Psychatog Control decks of old. However, this deck has a lot of synergies interwoven. Counterbalance plus Sensei's Divining Top is a good combo, providing a permanent solution to problem cards like Life from the Loam and it tends to contain decks with cheap spells in general. Sensei's Divining Top also works very well with Dark Confidant to ensure you don't take too much damage. Lastly, Top has good synergy with fetch-lands that can shuffle so you get to look at three new cards, and it can be discarded to Thirst for Knowledge in a pinch. Some older versions of this deck have played Trinket Mage, but I like the newer list without them. A 2/2 for three mana is rather clunky after all.

There are a few interesting card choices in the above deck that should be mentioned. First, there is Remand. Most other versions don't run countermagic past Counterspell and Spell Snare. Remand is never bad, but I think that it is overall worse in Extended than in Standard, since the average mana cost of Extended cards tends to be quite low and therefore the tempo advantage you can net with Remand is not so great. Furthermore, the sideboard has white cards instead of the traditional Dwarven Blastminers and Ancient Grudges. Kataki, War's Wage should ensure you beat any Affinity decks you may encounter, and there are not many Urzatron decks or ScepterChant decks around that the red cards are good against.

So now I have covered the 4 major archetypes according to the online metagame. In the next tier decks, we see a lot of old favorites, such as Gifts Rock and Affinity, but also a couple relative newcomers. I found two of those particularly interesting.

Krystyna z gazowni's Enduring Ideal

This archetype won last Sunday's 4x Premier Event (attended by 80 players), beating King in the Castle in the finals. The above list is an old one by the same player, as I could not get a hold of the decklist that he used to win the 4x Open, but it should still be a representative one.

The deck's strategy is of course based on Enduring Ideal. With some Invasion sac-lands and mana cards like Seething Song and Lotus Bloom, it can be easily play on turn four. The deck can search for the defining sorcery with Burning Wish and Insidious Dreams. Playing Long-Term Plans and then putting it on top with Sensei's Divining Top is an awkward way, but it also works just as well. Once an Ideal resolves, the usual plan is first to go for Dovescape, effectively shutting down a lot of the popular strategies plus potential answers to your enchantments, then the turn after Solitary Confinement to protect you even more, and afterwards 2 Form of the Dragon, which should kill the opponent before you are unable to pay Confinement's upkeep. You have Boseiju, Who Shelters All (1 main, 3 in the board) to force through an Ideal against decks with countermagic. And in cases when your opponent is at 16 life or lower (which happens frequently due to the use of fetch-lands and shock-duals) you can use Insidious Dreams to search for Draco and Erratic Explosion and win without even playing an Ideal.

ps2gf's Green-Blue-Black Turbo Grow Deck

If you have been around long enough to remember Miracle Grow and Super Grow (check here for some reminiscence if you like) then I think you can appreciate this deck, as it tries to reenact the old Grow strategy pretty well. It's missing the alternate mana cost cards like Daze, so Quirion Dryad is not so good in this deck as it was in the old Grow decks, but there are still plenty of similarities. The deck has an abundance of cheap 0 or 1 mana cost spells to fill the graveyard quickly, which equals a big Tarmogoyf. Psychatog naturally goes very well with big graveyards. And Tombstalker can actually be played on turn two in this deck, if you are lucky enough to get a draw with two sac-lands, Mental Note, and Mishra's Bauble, that is. The best thing is that all the cheap card draw spells—like Mental Note and Serum Visions—will generally draw you into even more card draw spells, so that you can keep on going filling the graveyard for your creatures, and they let you get away with only playing 19 land. Ghastly Demise also works wonders in this deck for obvious reasons, and the deck can also fight opposing combo decks with disruption in Duress and Spell Snare. Fathom Seer is a bit of a strange inclusion. It tries to substitute for Gush—which was decidedly awesome in the Grow and Psychatog decks of old—but I am not sure it is good enough, since you still have to pay three mana first to morph it. I would probably like to include some extra Mishra's Baubles instead.

This deck made quite a few Top 8 appearances before the Tenth Edition release event break, but since then it has not made a single Top 8. In fact, none of the 80 players in the 4x Premier Event of last Sunday ran it, so perhaps it turned out to be not good enough. However, the deck still seems like a lot of fun to play, and should still be competitive enough, so if you are looking for something different then this may be it.

And Now for Something Completely Different: What Is the Value of Information in Magic?

For this part, I need your help. I will describe an interesting situation, which I would like you to read through. Then please come up with a quick guess and vote it in the poll. I will use the results in my article in two weeks. I'll leave it as a surprise for what purpose I am exactly going to use it, but it has something to do with game theory.

Now, we all know that the winner of a game of Magic is decided by a few things, such as the outcome of the shuffling of the decks and the strategies employed by the players. You only have an influence over your own strategy, i.e. you can choose which play to make for every possible game state. This will depend on things like the contents of your hand and the board, but it cannot depend on your opponent's hand or on the order of cards in player's libraries, because you simply don't have that information. Those hidden information factors constitute random chance elements.

But what if there was a way to get that hidden information? What if you could summon a master cheater that will hold up a mirror behind the opponent's hand and who can provide you with magic see-through glasses that enable you to learn the exact order of all cards in player's libraries? Heck, you even get to know what your opponent's morphs are and the outcome of possible randomization, even by your opponent, in advance. You still cannot influence the randomization process itself—a judge will shuffle your decks, you cannot cheat by stacking your deck or something like that—but you will know in advance the realization of all the random chance moves, before you will have to make decisions in the game. Wouldn't it be useful to know if there are some lands on top of your deck when you are faced with a difficult mulligan decision? And wouldn't it be handy to see whether or not your opponent is holding Damnation (or whether there is one on top of his deck) when you are deciding between adding another creature to the board or holding back? And wouldn't it be helpful to know what the outcome of a Frenetic Sliver coin flip will be, before you make your plays? And wouldn't it be valuable to know what cards are going to be on top of your opponent's library after he shuffles with a fetch-land? How about knowing the contents of your hand if you would decide to mulligan to six (or five, or four, etc.) in advance? And there are many more random chance elements and pieces of hidden information in the game of Magic that I haven't even mentioned. Your opponent would not have access to all this hidden information; only you would know the outcome of all random chance moves in advance, although your opponent would know that you have this information (and he will play optimally, giving maximal opposition with that in mind, as always).

Now, the question I am about to pose is this: to what extent would this information increase the chances of an optimal player to win the game?

Picture two superb, top-notch Magic players playing against each other. Think Jon, Kai, or Kenji. My point is that the two players in my scenario are pretty much complete masters of the game and they will make the optimal play at every stage of the game (and with access to all hidden information they can anticipate future actions of the opponent). If they play a mirror matchup, or perhaps switch decks every game, and do not have information on how random chance elements will be realized, then these players should each have a 50% chance to win a game against each other. However, if we give a player extra information, then his chance of winning should clearly increase.

Now, if we give an optimal player this knowledge of hidden information and the outcomes of possible randomization in advance, then by how much will his chance to win the game increase? I'll take into account that this value may depend on the matchup, so I'll break this question up in two.

Question 1: The optimal players play a control mirror match against each other (let's say, this list of Standard Blue/Black Teferi). One player gets to know the outcome of all possible randomization and all hidden information in advance.

What is the better-informed control player's chance of winning?50-55%55-60%60-65%65-70%70-75%75-80%80-85%85-90%90-95%95-100%

Question 2: The optimal players play an agro mirror match against each other (let's say, this list of Standard Red-Green Greater Goyf). One player gets to know the outcome of all possible randomization and all hidden information in advance.

What is the better-informed aggro player's chance of winning?50-55%55-60%60-65%65-70%70-75%75-80%80-85%85-90%90-95%95-100%

Thanks for voting, and feel free to discuss this problem in the forums (or to ask me for any clarification)!

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