It seems like just yesterday that I was talking about how disappointed I was that Amsterdam was shaping up to have the worst format of all time. Stale Extended M11 draft – all signs pointed to it turning out to be a terrible Pro Tour. And then suddenly late last week Wizards dropped a bomb of an announcement. Not only would Amsterdam not be a reenactment of every Extended Grand Prix so far this year but moving forward Extended would be an entirely new format!
There's little more exciting to me in Magic than new formats. It's why I love Block Constructed so much and why I wish Wizards did more to support it. Anything that makes players start thinking about the game within new parameters is exciting. The first few months of a new Standard as players grapple with the loss of an entire block and the introduction of a new set is one of my favorite times. Major players from the last block format stand out but the metagame is ripe for savvy players who find new decks and new interactions to do quite well.
I won't shed any tears for the death of Extended as it was. Like Wizards said it was a format that no one played except when it was forced upon them by organized play. It wasn't big enough to let people play with all of their cards like Legacy and yet too big for someone to show up with their Standard deck without being laughed out of the room. Magic has been exploding in popularity over the past few years but those new players can't easily get into a format that requires them to process (and purchase) seven years’ worth of cards. Accessibility is a huge factor in the viability of a format and Extended has never felt like a truly accessible format for anyone who only recently started playing.
That said I do think that there is a place for a format between Legacy and the new Extended. Legacy is great and all but there's only so many Underground Seas out there and with Wizards' recent upholding of the reserved list that's all there are going to be for good. It makes sense for Wizards to focus the bulk of their organized play on formats that can appeal to new players and I think using the new Extended Standard and Block Constructed for PTQs and Grands Prix does that. It would be nice to have some support for a bridge between Legacy and the new Extended though because there's a whole lot of cards out there that aren't quite up to snuff with a world full of dual lands and Force of Wills that are aching for a home.
I understand that Wizards can't just add formats with impunity since each additional format fragments your player base a little bit more but in a game with over fifteen years of sets it seems like there ought to be some sort of middle ground between “the last four years” and “EVERYTHING!” I like the idea of a Masques forward environment that has been thrown around since that's about the time WotC development started to catch most big development mistakes before they made it out the door.
Yes people can play with whatever rules they like in their own playgroups but official recognition of a format goes a long way. Even if WotC never has premiere level events for the format having official rules goes a long way toward encouraging discussion and creating a community. Look at Legacy prior to the last few years!
In any case enough about what new formats we should have and back to the one that we do. I've heard a lot of people who are upset about the new Extended format saying that it will just be a battle of old Standard decks. Faeries against 5CC against Elves against Jund or what have you. Those are exactly the players who are sure to lose in spectacular fashion in the new format. This isn't Block Party – we're not just taking the big fish from each of these small ponds and smashing them into one another. This is a whole new ballgame that just looks a lot like the old one.
Haven't you ever noticed that Wizards always seems to print the perfect card for your old Standard deck right when half of it is rotating out with an old block? Wizards is very careful about printing a critical mass of certain card types in the same Standard format. Add even one block and you start to see these carefully controlled numbers starting to add up.
One of those card types is land destruction. Consider that in the new Extended all of these cards are legal:
That's a lineup that can put some serious hurting on your real estate – and that's not looking outside of Red! And Boom/Bust sure does go nicely with those fetchlands that weren't around last time it was in Standard...
Burn is another carefully managed card type. Shall we take a look?
And that's only the truly top shelf stuff! Does that look frighteningly similar to a deck that saw some success early last Standard season? You know the old format with twice as many sets that still had Jitte and Dark Depths to deal with? And now even if people want to play Kor Firewalker you can come packing Ghostfire! I certainly don't think all those people touting Jund or Faeries as the “obvious best deck” of the new format want to sit down across from someone who decided to pay attention to just how much burn there is out there do you?
That's what I've spent my time brainstorming since the announcement of the new Extended – cards that bridge across blocks and find homes with friends from the past or from the future. Some of these are pretty straightfoward - Coralhelm Commander pretty clearly fits in with the almost-good-enough Merfolk tribe of Lorwyn block and Eldrazi Monument sure seems like the kind of card that goes well with Spectral Procession and Cloudgoat Ranger – how's that for a sick one to hide under Windbrisk Heights? Others are bit more subtle like the fact that Cruel Ultimatum decks have access to Damnation instead of Wrath of God now if they want it. One of the little things that stood out immediately to me was the fact that Murmuring Bosk has the type “Forest” which makes it fetchable by not only Treefolk Harbinger but Verdant Catacombs and Misty Rainforest as well. Doran never had a manabase this good...
That's another big reason it's a mistake just to look at the heavy hitters of each old Standard format: mana. While we saw what Reflecting Pool Vivid Lands and friends meant for the format they were in we haven't seen them in action with the entire new Extended card pool. The available mana does so much to impact what is viable in a given format that we have to re-evaluate everything we know in the context of what is possible now. Jund may have a hard time justifying Sedraxis Specter right now but what about in a world where it gets to play with Vivid lands and Reflecting Pool? Does Urborg mean anything to cards from the past few years? And just when you thought he was everywhere already anyone who wants to play Jace the Mind Sculptor can do so without too much trouble thanks to the wonders of filter lands like Sunken Ruins and Flooded Grove.
This goes both ways of course. We have to consider not only what the mana lets us do but what easy ways of disrupting mana exist in the format. I touched briefly on land destruction earlier but that was mostly in the context of a specific strategy rather than the implications of mana denial that might incidentally see play.
How readily can Five-Color Control cast everything it wants if people show up with Spreading Seas? Can Faeries ever hope to race Great Sable Stag in a world where their Mutavaults can get hit by Tectonic Edge? And everyone had better know what their plan is against Magus of the Moon or they're in for an unpleasant tournament...
All of that being said it's certainly true that anyone who wants to succeed in the new Extended needs to keep the boogeymen of both today and yesteryear in mind when building their decks. If your deck rolls over and dies to a turn two Bitterblossom you're probably not going to make it far. If you can't handle a Bloodbraid Elf into a Blightning you might want to rethink your strategy. Even if those decks aren't the best in the format they're certainly the most obvious and lots of players are likely to show up with whatever Standard deck they did best with over the past few seasons.
What does that mean? Bring the hate! Be on the lookout for cards that punish those who fall back on old favorites especially those that might overlap against more than one of the old favorites. I have a feeling Great Sable Stag will see its stock rise dramatically since it's a stone cold killer against Faeries and no slouch against Jund. That one's obvious enough but what about something like Paladin en-Vec? I can't have been the only one who lamented the rotation of Mr. Protection-from-Jund just as Savage Land became Standard's home base! We've seen how good Cunning Sparkmage is at killing Noble Hierarch and friends these days – just think about how good he can be at keeping the unholy spawn of Bitterblossom under control.
In short keep your mind and your eyes open. I know that I've already spent quite a bit of time poring over old sets looking for anything that stands out – especially Time Spiral Block since I wasn't even playing while that was legal in Standard! Don't fall into the trap of assuming the format is already defined because even a single extra set can completely turn an environment on its head and we're talking about a much bigger difference than that from any of the many Standard formats the new Extended might bear a resemblance to.
What do I like? Well I haven't started testing yet but I can't help but notice that pretty much every non-land card from a certain Extended deck from about a year ago area still legal...
Until next time…