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Puzzling out the current Extended metagame would be a challenge in any reality.

Double Negative

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The letter R!eally the most brain-bending possible question in all the realms of Dominia - this week at least - has got to be "What if Swimming with Sharks Didn't Ask 'What If?' with the rest of the columns?" Ambitious masterminds that we are, we Spikes have elected to try to answer that question. I know that it is difficult to get yourself around to seeing from this bold perspective, but really, we at Swimming with Sharks believe it is worth the effort. If your puny brain can't quite puzzle through it, you can just pretend for the purposes of this column that there isn't any theme this week at all and it will be a lot easier.

... Easier than predicting the metagame for the current Extended PTQ and Grand Prix season, that is!



2/10

Loam
Affinity
Boros
Chapin 4-color
Aggro Flow
NO Stick




2/17

Loam
Aggro Flow
U/W Post
Affinity
Boros
TEPS
Chapin 4-color
Gifts Rock
Haterator
NO Stick
Tooth and Nail
Trinket 'Tog
U/G Opposition




2/24

Loam
Gifts Rock
Trinket 'Tog
Aggro Flow
Affinity
Boros
Tenacious 'Tron
Death Cloud
Flow Rock
G/R Fat
NO Stick
RDW
Sanchez Hybrid
Stuffy Doll
TEPS
Trinket Angels
U/G Opposition




Grand Prix Dallas (2/24)

Gaea's Might Get There
Loam
Affinity
Chapin 4-color
Goblins
NO Stick "Beat Stick"
U/W 'Tron


The most interesting journey of all new decks, in my mind, is the Chapin 4-color deck that we alluded to last week. Chapin, a former Grand Prix finalist with multiple Pro Tour Top 8 finishes under his belt and a stint as the original Magic R&D Intern, recently returned to the game, and has made it his mission to become the most significant writer and deck designer (again?) in the world. The first big deck of Pat's comeback is the hybrid Zoo that took his barns and hull to repeated top finishes over the past three weeks. Aaron Breider fired the first shot on 2/10 with a Top 4, followed by dinosaur edt's finals on 2/17, culminating most recently in Mark Herberholz's Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Dallas.







I think that Pat's deck is a legitimate step away from what we have been calling "Boros" or even "Black Boros" for most of this season towards a true "Zoo" deck. The differentiation is not clean, as most Boros decks have been packing four Kird Apes since Frank Karsten and Billy Moreno popularized them at the World Championships at the end of last year. However Pat's deck makes the additional step of adding Watchwolf, planting the deck more solidly in the realm of Green creatures.

Watchwolf itself is a controversial card inclusion at this level, if not a legitimately interesting creature. It has been called everything from an automatic four-of for any deck that can summon it (Zvi Mowshowitz), to a skill-testing trap that gets players to run underpowered G/W decks for the love of efficient individual choices (Greg Weiss). Beatdown decks have gotten a bit lazy since the trend back towards Boros and away from Zoo (which was the default Standard deck of Pro Tour - Honolulu despite Herberholz's win with Gruul), settling for two power creatures for two mana, largely because of protection from red. However in the majority of non-interactive matchups (TEPS, U/W "big mana," creature-on-creature to a large degree), a 3/3 is better than a 2/2 (or 2/1) regardless of what the rest of the card's text attempts to indicate. For example, a Watchwolf will kill in about six turns unaided (21 points, if necessary, in seven turns), whereas a Silver Knight takes at least eight turns, probably nine, and ten full turns if the opponent isn't fooling around with Onslaught and Ravnica dual lands. Three, even four free topdecks for the other guy? Yes, the margin is pretty significant between the two.

Another key point of differentiation between Pat's deck and previous Boros or Zoo builds is the inclusion of Sensei's Divining Top and Dark Confidant. In a word, this is a sick addition. Dark Confidant fronts like one of the best creatures ever printed, but Bob Maher's Invitational card is flat out unplayable in numerous circumstances, sometimes proving incapable of beating a poker chip or goldfish, let alone an opposing deck with damage sources. However with Sensei's Divining Top, Dark Confidant is all upside! Pat plays twelve Onslaught duals, giving his Tops repeated selection. The addition of Black gives Pat's deck an interesting foot back into the Fujita original from Pro Tour - Los Angeles in 2005, with "eight Stone Rains." In this case, the Dark Confidant splash gave Pat the opportunity to run Vindicate over Pillage, which is obviously all bonus. I know Pat tested Boom // Bust in the Molten Rain slot (I know because Pat spent several hours tutoring me on the dozens of Boom // Bust interactions in Extended), but he said that Molten Rain tested better, despite being more mana and more red-intensive, because two points is essentially another turn.

Ted Knutson chose to call Pat's deck Domain Zoo, but the only true Domain element (and even then it is only four-fifths Domain) is Tribal Flames. Tribal Flames is generally going to be Volcanic Hammer in this deck, as Pat will tend to have three colors on any two lands, but it has the additional upside of that fourth point should the card appear in the middle or late turns.

One of the things I like about this deck - even though I clashed personally with Pat over the weeks that he was in the process of developing it - is how uncompromising it is. Pat chose literally best of breed at every mana point and corrected the flaws of the Black Boros and Orzhov decks present and past, even as he added pain. The most significantly uncompromising element is the presence of four Ancient Grudges in the sideboard. It is pretty clear at this point that Ancient Grudge is the strongest card in the current Extended, showing up as essentially a four-of in every winning Flow and Loam deck, splashed in most Boros decks, one of the few barriers to Affinity domination, keeping NO Stick - for the most part - where it belongs. Pat was adamant in playing this card, and forced his mana base to allow him to do so.

While Chapin's deck shows an interesting transition week-to-week, we can't really get through the post-Grand Prix weekend without noting the other Domain Zoo in the Top 8, the one played by the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame's own Level V mage, Raphael Levy.



This deck is basically a straight Zoo, but includes two true Domain elements for one specific synergy. Like Chapin's deck, Gaea's Might Get There has a powerful Tribal Flames incentive, but unlike the Chapin/Breider/Taylor/Herberholz 4-color, this deck has a not-so-random Breeding Pool to steal the fifth point. The big pump spell, though, is Gaea's Might. Gaea's Might can jack a creature all the way to +5/+5, and when that creature is a Boros Swiftblade... Just make sure you block.

Overall, my assessment of the field is that while this Extended is the most diverse format we have seen maybe ever, there is a mythical "best deck" pulling away, if by small margin, from the rest of the pack. That deck appears to be Aggro Loam. Not only is Aggro Loam possibly the most decorated deck of the season, but the unstoppable Kenji Tsumura decided to go with it on the way to his GP Dallas Top 8; high praise.

That said, there are a couple of new challengers that have stolen Blue Envelopes the past couple of weeks, both reaping the benefits of a little Damnation: Gifts Rock and Trinket 'Tog.


Gifts Rock is a bit of an oldie, if you can call a deck based on Gifts Ungiven and Life from the Loam "old," sitting in a predator position on Magic Online as the Extended format moved from Ichorid to Aggro Loam (much more aggressive with Wild Mongrels and Firebolts than today's sit-there Terravore kills) to Gifts Rock. All three decks are - or at least were - in some wise graveyard-based, though Brandon Burks's version has hybridized the Trinket Mage engine over a single Life from the Loam (you could get Life from the Loam with Gifts Ungiven), though he retains a Gifts Ungiven-Genesis long game.

The singletons - especially Global Ruin - are very exciting in this deck. Brandon can for instance fire off a third-turn Gifts Ungiven for Global Ruin, Eternal Witness, Reclaim, and whatever and get the Global Ruin within one turn. It's actually pretty easy to set up a four-land remainder in this deck, while devastating the opponent's board (imagine you are up against Affinity or TEPS).


Trinket 'Tog is a logical repositioning and hybridization of known and new elements. Psychatog, the best creature ever printed, has been largely absent from 2007 Extended because of Sudden Shock, but Damnation has given control players a new incentive to run Dr. Teeth.

In this case, all eggs are no longer in a single basket. Hansen's deck splices the same Trinket Mage-toolbox-Counterbalance package onto the traditional Psychatog deck, controlling the board with Sensei's Divining Top + Counterbalance. Note that you can just leave a two mana card on top of your deck and tap for Psychatog. Thanks to Counterbalance, it ain't going anywhere, not even to Sudden Shock!

A deck that is not exactly new and didn't qualify any players (so far), but is nevertheless a very interesting hybrid, is the so-called Stuffy Doll combination.



Langford's version does one million different things… It is a big mana 'Tron look at U/W control, it is kind of a terrible Isochron Scepter deck, and it incorporates this crazy 0/1 Artifact Creature for five. Yes, Stuffy Doll is a superb blocker, but that isn't why it is played in Constructed, let alone Extended. The combination is Stuffy Doll + Guilty Conscience. Any time Stuffy Doll deals damage - including from itself to itself - it aims that much damage at the opponent. Guilty Conscience deals damage to Stuffy Doll whenever the Doll deals damage, creating an infinite loop so that together, one point is all the points.

Four-color Zoo, Gaea's Might Get There, Gifts Rock, Stuffy Doll… The new standouts we discussed this week already outnumber the viable archetypes in most Constructed formats, and remember these are just incrementals over the Boros Deck Wins, TEPS, Loams, Flows, other Flows, and Tenacious 'Trons that were already winning Blue Envelopes for the past several weeks. Who needs a "What If?" alternate reality when our metagame in this one gives us a new environment essentially every week?

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