We began to test for the Pro Tour... well... you could say back in the day. It was before the new round of bannings, heck, it was right in the middle of the Kamigawa Block season. Most Dutch players got together mainly to test Block Constructed for two Grand Prix and Type Two for our Nationals, but we decided to play some Extended as well. We thought that Ravnica would not have an impact on the format significant enough to stop us from testing something useful.
Man, we couldn't have been more wrong; seven out of eight players in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour played Ravnica cards, and not just any cards. R&D thought that it was time to change Extended drastically, to go along with the big shift in legal sets for it. They made it a lot easier for any deck to take some extra damage to play another color by throwing in some Dual lands with obvious synergy with the Onslaught fetchlands.
You can easily see this by looking at the results of the four tournaments that have already been played in this format, but I'm not going to talk about the impact of the Duals on Extended; you don't have to look far to see that their impact is huge. Today I'll discuss a deck that has come to be the deck to beat as its results have shown; its different variants lead me (among lots of others) to success. People have built Psychatog decks in a bunch of different ways; I'll lay it out to you in three different main groups:
Classic Psychatog - A classic U/B-build like Antoine Ruel used to win Pro Tour LA.
LoamAtog, DredgeAtog, B/U/G Atog - Basically any build that includes Green apart from the usual Black and Blue, mainly to open a spot in the deck for a Life from the Loam-engine.
Mad Tog, Madness'Tog, B/U/G Madness - This deck is, as opposed to the aforementioned builds, a beatdown build rather than a control build. Billy Moreno first brought this deck to the spotlight when he piloted it to the finals of the Pro Tour, but it hasn't hit a Top 8 since then. This doesn't mean that it's no longer viable; the amount of results is not significant enough to conclude that, but the control-variants of the deck becoming an increasingly popular choice is not great news for the deck. Since the control builds are very different from this build, and I'm not really a beatdown player, I'll leave this variant out and discuss the differences and important card choices of the other decks.
If you look at the two control builds separately, their main game plan is pretty much the same against beatdown decks, but quite different in control matchups. Life from the Loam and Genesis are both great late-game cards for control matchups, so the classic U/B-variants need to be the aggressive side in such matchups. They need to get out an Atog early and get it big as soon as possible. If they give their opponent enough time to exploit his green cards, they will lose in the long run on plain card advantage.
Before I head on, I'll show you three sample decklists. The first is Antoine's winning PT LA list:
The second one is Kenji Tsumura's third-place Dredge-Atog list:
The third list I'll show you is the list I used for GP: Copenhagen:
The first list is Antoine's straightforward U/B Psychatog list, no Green goofiness included. The second list is the Japanese take on the deck, a slower build with Cunning Wish and a big Green splash for Pernicious Deed, Putrefy, Oxidize, Life from the Loam and some sideboard cards. The final list could be seen as a combination of the two, trying to get a drip of the power the green cards offer, yet keep the deck focused. To be honest, I didn't test a lot with the list that I used, because of the short period of time between the Pro Tour and the GP, I did the most testing the night before; I'd say around 25 games total, but I was pleasantly surprised with the deck's power. I'll now explain some of my card choices.
A great card to have in the deck; it can win you long control-games as well as serve as a safety-lock for your dredging away most of the kill conditions. It also helps a lot against opposing Pithing Needles and Cranial Extractions, which is also a reason to include a Meloku, and it allows you to run some creature one-ofs such as the Meloku in the main and the Llawan in the side.
4 Gifts Ungiven
Many argue that four Gifts are just too much, and it's true. The first Gifts is essential - it allows you to get your cycle-lands and Life from the Loam, and whatever one-of you need at that point, allowing you to draw some more cards, and get a lot more cards in your graveyard to feed the Psychatog on or just mill cards that do something when they're in the graveyard. But after that, if you manage to mill away the cards that need to be in your graveyard, it only functions as a deck-thinner, usually getting four lands. Fact or Fiction is a good replacement for one or two Gifts - in the late game you sometimes have a hard time getting a Psychatog and Fact is great for that purpose. Obviously Fact is a great card for the deck in any case because of the synergy it has with cards with graveyard-abilities, but you shouldn't play too many four-drops.
4 Mental Note
When Mike Flores talked about Dredge-Atog and Mental Note-Tog, I wondered, why wouldn't they be in the same deck? The synergy with the rest of the deck is obvious, and as Antoine Ruel said, it really helps to provide the necessary boost for your Circular Logic and Psychatog early on against the beatdown decks.
1 Llawan, Cephalid Empress (sideboard)
With Antoine's winning decklist from the previous week in our minds, we thought that any opponent with that deck would have no way to deal with Llawan once it's in play apart from Boomerang (but it would just come down again on the next turn), and you can easily "tutor" it up if you combine it with Genesis.
1 Stinkweed Imp
Yeah, I saved the best for the last. I had Golgari Grave-Troll in the deck at first, but then the idea of Stinkweed Imp came to our minds. Frank Karsten, Rogier Maaten and me had all thought about the little Stinker but nobody dared to put it out on the table. Well, we got it eventually. The basic idea is to have a surprise quick kill in the deck without the need of one or two Green sources. Dredge 5 (or 6) can obviously kill very quickly with a bunch of cheap drawers like the Mental Notes or Deep Analysis. It's also something a Psychatog-opponent has to deal with before going for the kill, even if they have Wonder. Against Affinity, and in particular the games after sideboard, you're trading one-for-one all the time, and if you get to the late-game all of their creatures are doomed to trade for your draw step, and you're getting access to all sorts of graveyard effects in the meanwhile.
Basic matchup strategies
This matchup is all about the early-mid game; whether or not they can get an early Psychatog out. Whatever happens, you should try to avoid this, because when the games take longer, you'll resolve a Gifts Ungiven at some point, or just hard-draw the Life from the Loam-engine.
One Force Spike is left in to hopefully get your opponent to play around it once you've played your only copy, and it's not very unlikely to hit an early Duress with it. All Mental Note are taken out simply because you want to minimize the chance that you'll mill your good spells, and you don't really need to power-up a Psychatog or Circular Logic so early on in the game anymore. Llawan is a good one-off against any Psychatog opponent, and one Coffin Purge is put in to remove the Wonder and opposing Coffin Purges. Against versions with green you definitely want the second copy as well, but Antoine's version just didn't have enough targets for the second one.
This could be called the mirror match, but if they're playing a deck similar to Tsumura's version, they will have a lot more removal spells and less hard counters, but also Cunning Wish to get access to some solutions. Unlike in the UB-Psychatog matchup, you don't want the games to take too long because they might be able to get some action with Cunning Wish, but you shouldn't be in a rush either as they will have Smother, Putrefy and Pernicious Deed for your Psychatogs. Most of their spells are quite expensive though, so as long as you don't fall behind in mana they won't be able to resolve their bigger spells, the number of hard counters you have compared to what they have should also give you a fair advantage.
Llawan is too risky in the matchup if they have Cunning Wish for Natural Affinity, it might kill you right there, or they can Armageddon with a Pernicious Deed. Coffin Purge is crucial; not only to remove Life from the Loam and Wonder, but I expect more people to run Genesis now.
Mad Tog 20/20:
Plain and simple, you need to keep the discard sources off the table. It plays out a lot like the old U/G Madness matchup most of the time. Here's the sideboarding:
After game one, you get access to more removal and cut the slower cards. Darkblast is kept in to destroy not only Basking Rootwallas, but also Aquamoebas, even if they know you have it in your hand, as long as you respond to the Moeba's activation and don't let it resolve.
Of the two beatdown matchups, this is the one that favors you, but any deck can easily lose to the Boros deck if their deck doesn't cooperate from the start on. The one thing that you should avoid when facing a Boros opponent is to get greedy, and not only during the game itself but also when you're choosing whether or not to take a mulligan. If you survive the early game with a reasonably healthy life total, your deck is a lot better than theirs, so that's what you should be aiming for (you shouldn't be afraid to Counterspell something such as a Lightning Helix or Firebolt). The matchup gets a lot better after sideboarding:
Duress is necessary to put in because they're just better than the cards that you're taking out, early on it can take out a burn spell or Pithing Needle and later on you can make sure they don't have Purge when you go for the kill. Pernicious Deed is mainly there to take care of cards like Pyrostatic Pillar and Blood Moon rather than to take out smaller creatures; you have 9 removal spells to take care of that now. Wonder is no longer needed because you have so many removal spells to deal with the blockers, but Genesis is kept in to prevent you from losing to double Pithing Needle (on Psychatog and Deed), and because you're still milling yourself a lot with the Darkblasts.
The other beatdown matchup is not favorable for you, but you do have a lot to work with in the sideboard. The plan is to just take out their guys one by one, then hopefully dominate the board with Psychatog or Pernicious Deed, the problem is that when they explode their hand onto the board on turn two, there's not a lot you can do, especially if they also have a Pithing Needle. Erayo should not be a problem as long as you play around it properly (wait until their turn to take out guys) and it doesn't flip on the second turn.
I'm not entirely sure what cards I'd change in the deck; that's why I used the version I played in Copenhagen to discuss the matchups and sideboard strategies. If you play some games with the deck, you'll notice that nearly every card is needed and that there's very little space in the deck, and you can't really play less than 25 lands either. You could choose not to play Mental Note if you expect a heavy control-field, but I've always liked it whenever I drew it, but then again you can never really argue whether or not a card like Mental Note is actually good or not. I'm pretty sure that this is close to a good list; in any case this is the version I think is best (give or take a few cards).
That's it for now, I hope this article helped you with your PTQs or GP,