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Catching up with the Extended PTQ metagame.

The All-Winners Squad

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Welcome back to Swimming with Sharks!

Now that the Morningtide previews are out of the way (how about that Countryside Crusher?) it's time to roll up the old sleeves and sink our collective sharks' teeth into the 2008 Extended PTQ metagame. Thanks to last week's Morningtide Prereleases, we are only about two weeks behind... Let's get to it!


Preseason: Worlds 2007

Doran
Tarmogoyf Counterbalance
Spire Blue
Blue-Green ‘Tron
Psychatog
Gifts Rock
Red-White Balance

The season started earlier than usual thanks to the solo PTQ at the 2007 World Championships in New York City. This tournament featured quite the opening salvo from what looks to be—at this point, before the legal injection of Morningtide into 2008 Extended, anyway—the dominant deck of the format, Doran Junk.

Mat Marr - 1st

PT Junk


Matt Marr's qualifying deck from Worlds is a little crude compared to some of the more recent Doran decks (in particular he played only two copies of the namesake card) but most of the key elements were there.

Doran is the present inheritor of The Rock's popular mantle in Extended. With the printing of Doran, the Siege Tower in Lorwyn, this deck (speaking broadly) is essentially a faster implementation of Barra's white-splashing deck from the Top 8 of Pro Tour–Valencia. While the deck retains the light one-mana disruption suite we have come to expect from Extended versions of The Rock, the main incentive for playing Doran is its increased speed.

In the past, many versions of The Rock have come under medium-to-heavy criticism for their inability to close games and generally limp attack creatures; not so with the Doran decks. Doran, the Siege Tower is a functional Phyrexian Negator (that is, a 5/5 creature for three mana) that also improves the offensive potential of Tarmogoyf and even Birds of Paradise. Most versions of Doran Rock / Doran Junk play the maximum number of Dark Confidants... Bob Maher is a two power creature for two mana. Never discount the presence of a Grizzly Bears in terms of initiating offense.

Marr went with lots of Swords and Jittes in the main... This is certainly a direction you can go, trying to win equipment fights and potentially speeding up the clock by a turn or two. Other Doran decks approached the metagame with a little more mana, a hair more disruption, and a slightly stronger midgame plan rather than putting most of the focus on presenting that sharper offense.

A great opening win for Marr and Doran, regardless.

Week One: Doran and Dredge

Dredge
Doran
Tarmogoyf Counterbalance
Red Deck Wins
Gaea’s Might Get There
Spire Blue
Domain Zoo
Ideal
Wizards
Aggro Flow
Blue-Green ‘Tron
Gifts Rock
Blue-White ‘Tron
Intruder Alarm
Threshold

Week One of the season proper was a huge one for Week Zero winner Doran as well as longtime format boogeyman Dredge. Three other archetypes took blue envelopes in North America, with Dredge the only double winner.

Chad Kastel

1st Place - New York - New York - 1/5


New York was crazy with Doran. I personally played against the deck four times out of eight rounds, and the Top 8 was six (!!!) Doran decks balanced by a pair of Gaea's Might Get There Domain Zoo variants. At the end of a couple of long hours of Doran mirrors and attrition fights, the blue envelope went to Chad Kastel of New Jersey.

Chad's deck was a good example of a slightly evolved Doran build... Of course the third and fourth copies of the namesake legendary Treefolk Shaman are in place; four copies of Cabal Therapy should be considered stock at this point for the archetype, and many mages will run the miser's Chrome Mox. You kind of never really want to draw two, but on the first turn—especially with Dark Confidant—the one Chrome Mox can really make you feel lucky.

Nick Crumpton

1st Place - Missouri - St. Louis - 1/5


Bao Luong

1st Place - Florida - Orlando - 1/5


You've probably seen this deck if you've been paying attention since Future Sight. The basic concept is to get a Dredge card (preferably Golgari Grave-Troll) into your graveyard and then to draw and Dredge in order to flip over multiple Narcomoebas with Bridge from Below and Dread Return into your graveyard. Plan A (especially with multiple Bridges) is to flash Dread Return for Flame-Kin Zealot, creating numerous 2/2 Zombies (temporarily bigger, and hasty) and to kill the opponent immediately; this usually takes no more than four turns unopposed, and Dredge can win even faster than that.

Plan B would be an old school Ichorid attack, and Plan C is to go Akroma, Angel of Wrath in place of Flame-Kin Zealot as a nice clock, albeit not one that usually kills in a single turn; Akroma or even a large Golgari Grave-Troll will typically end up the target when the opponent thinks he has been clever and has nuked all the Bridges with Mogg Fanatic or Sakura-Tribe Elder. This deck not only has a Plan B but a Plan C and probably wins Game 1 80% of the time!

So why isn't Dredge just the best deck to play?

Actually, Week One it looked pretty close to being just that deck.

Nick Crumpton's Top 8 featured four total copies of Tormod's Crypt and eight copies of Leyline of the Void... four of which were in his own sideboard! That kind of a Top 8 is basically cake for a good Dredge player. If I were setting up to beat Dredge, I would make sure I had eight cards to side in (most decks) with four to all eight as close to automatic wins as possible (Leyline, Crypt, Extirpate, etc.).

Why so serious? Luong actually faced some legitimate sideboard cards in Orlando—almost a half a dozen Crypts, a couple of Extirpates, three Yixlid Jaileras well as Leyline of the Void. Now granted Bao's finals opponent packed the same number of sideboarded Selesnya Evangels as actual Leylines... but at least he had some. Orlando, even with their decent volume of graveyard hate cards, could not rise to hold the deck down... It was essentially a mirror at the end; the winner, not surprisingly, was the guy with the four Leylines rather than the Siege Wurm.

Allan Autino

1st Place - Massachusetts - Boston - 1/5


This deck is just a solid Red Deck Wins... The main decision seems to be going down to just 21 lands and adding two copies of Tarfire (the Shock that gives +1/+1)) with no Firebolts. Other than that, the strategy is pretty simple: Get in with guys, bring them into burn range; hopefully finish it.

Kyle Boggemes

1st Place - Michigan - Detroit - 1/5


This deck is a take off of the Domain Zoo we saw in the Top 8 of Valencia... but with Gaea's Might put back in, even with no Boros Swiftblade!

The advantage of playing this kind of deck is simple: You can leverage basically any kind of mana in a fast deck, and therefore come ahead with the best spells for the cheapest prices, regardless of usual discipline. The curve tops up at Vindicate, so Dark Confidant is not usually going to kill you.

The most important addition to the deck seems to be Gaddock Teeg. Teeg slows down Enduring Ideal and can completely blank Dredge's Dread Return plan. The cool thing about this plan is the inevitability against Ideal... You can play Kami of Ancient Law and Ronom Unicorn even after they've "gone off" and still win without too much outlay.

I grouped all the decks with Tarmogoyf and Counterbalance together for graphical ease, but they are not identical. The one that actually took a blue envelope was Johnathan Stinnett's from Roanoke.

Johnathan Stinnett

1st Place - Virginia - Roanoke - 1/5


This deck sits between the "Chase Rares" Counterbalance deck that Remi Fortier used to win Valencia with principles from Pat Chapin's Next Level Blue (see below). The deck runs a Trinket Mage package to set up Counterbalance plus Sensei's Divining Top, or it can fetch the main deck Tormod's Crypt or one of the Engineered Explosives. Dark Confidant loves the Top almost as much as Counterbalance does, and Tarmogoyf is... Tarmogoyf.

The differences here are Vedalken Shackles main (presumably over Threads of Disloyalty) and the addition of a Living Wish package to supplement the Trinket Mage manipulation. This is particularly useful for fetching Loxodon Hierarch under pressure, Kataki against Affinity, and so on.

Patrick Chapin

2nd Place - Michigan - Detroit - 1/5


This article is geared in particular to the blue envelope–winning first place deck lists of the initial weeks of this PTQ season, but for this somewhat jumbled, potentially confusing line item I wanted to include the decks of some participating Pro Tour and Grand Prix finalists which deviated considerably from the average implementation.

Worlds Finalist Chapin piloted essentially a blue Counterbalance deck to the finals, eschewing cards like Dark Confidant and the Trinket Mage package. Instead he focused much more on the Living Wish side while simultaneously playing a fair amount of permission.

Chapin's Living Wish suite was built as a toolbox. He could fetch Gaddock Teeg or Meddling Mage against combo, Kataki against Affinity, Loxodon Hierarch against attack decks, or Yixlid Jailer against Dredge. Note that Patrick could essentially Living Wish for Tormod's Crypt in side boarded games: The Crypts came in and the Trinket Mage stayed put.

One cool thing about Chapin's version is that you can Ponder on the first turn with an educated guess to set up your Counterbalance to smash the opponent's play on turn two, even without the Top!

Owen Turtenwald

5th Place - Michigan - Detroit - 1/5


The biggest thing here is obviously the biggest thing present, Loxodon Hierarch over Dark Confidant main. This seems very much a metagame call; Turtenwald ran the conventional Trinket Mage setup main, complete with artifact lands, Pithing Needle, and Tormod's Crypt.

An additional unique feature of this build was Force Spike over Spell Snare. Spell Snare is the more inevitable response card, in that you can't really play around it, but Force Spike has the greater potential upside. On the first couple of turns the cards are very comparable. The notion is that as the game progresses Spell Snare loses little effectiveness (people keep playing two mana cards essentially forever)... But then again the deck has the Counterbalance + Sensei's Divining Top combo with many two-mana cards of its own to take care of those threats. The hidden value here is against early four-mana cards. Force Spike against Loxodon Hierarch on the third or fourth turn can be rather disheartening, certainly game swinging in effectiveness.

Week Two: Molten Rain Rides Again

LD Loam
Red Deck Wins
Doran
Goblins
Wizards
Dredge
Tarmogoyf Counterbalance
Affinity
Blue-Green Elves
Blue-Green ‘Tron


Ty Dobbertin

1st Place - Maryland - Baltimore area - 1/13


Loam again!

The most effective deck from last year's PTQ season was considered by many to be too slow for the current format, but the early success of Dredge in the Northeast made Life from the Loam a solid metagame reaction; Doran's disruption is mostly one-for-one discard spells, which pale against the relentless card advantage of mighty Life from the Loam.

Dobbertin's version featured a unique anti-mana element of Blood Moon and Molten Rain main (but was still capable of finding the Devastating Dreams with Burning Wish); in addition to giving the deck some lift against combo decks like Enduring Ideal, cards like Blood Moon just seem like a stack of Time Walks in a format defined by Onslaught and Ravnica dual lands.

Mogg Fanatic and Wild Cantor are functional cards that could double as early game preempts against Bridge from Below (provided the opponent did not start with Leyline of the Void).

Gary Meinl

1st Place - Ontario - Toronto - 1/12


Toronto got there!

Eight players, eight different decks, RDW on top.

This deck is a pretty straightforward Red Deck Wins attack deck... The most unique element was Tin Street Hooligan main as a miser's trey. In a Red Deck a random 2/1 for two mana is just fine. When the Hooligan is good, though... he's absolutely great. On turn two the 2/1 can smash a Signet, helping out Molten Rain on the mana disruption side; later in the game Tin Street can keep a player from being dominated in the Jitte war or even gobble up a lazily positioned Mindslaver.

The mana disruption theme continues in the sideboard with both Magus of the Moon and Blood Moon present to thumb their noses at Extended's fancy mana bases, grabbing games along the way.

Based on the early results, here are some goals to keep in mind for the PTQ aspirant:

1) Have a plan against Dredge. If you are going to side in a couple of Jailers and that's it... maybe you shouldn't waste your time on anti-Dredge cards at all. Dredge has been the boogeyman for a reason. It's not particularly hard for a tournament in aggregate to hold Dredge down, but if you (and other local players) refuse to allocate the necessary space to the deck, don't be surprised when it wins.

2) At least in my area, Doran seems to be the most important deck. It has been the most popular archetype played, and it won both PTQs in New York. Doran isn't an unfair deck (just a stack of very efficient cards), so unlike some of the more linearly developed decks in the format, you can beat it with raw card advantage and good cards of your own... You've got to be set up to do so, though.

3) Red beatdown is alive and well. Along with two North American RDW wins, we have a Gaea's Might Get There first place. If you can't beat first-turn Kird Ape, second-turn Tarmogoyf, chances are you can't win the Qualifier.

Good luck!

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