So, where were we?
When I left off two articles ago, I had thrown together an Extended deck predicated on disruption. Despite the fact it had little or no testing, I wanted to create a starting point. Sure enough, it was - but it's far from an end point. I may have unclearly gotten my point across, which I'd blame on too much turkey and too little sleep. Believe it or not, those things go hand-in-hand, as tryptophan makes me want to nap, which messes up my sleep schedule.
Tap target permanent. It does not untap during that player's next untap phase, but it untaps during the end of that player's turn.
Yeah, that's how I felt for two weeks after Thanksgiving. Yay for leftovers, and for writing articles at 4am.
So, like I was saying, where was...oh yeah, that's right. The Mole. That's what I wrote about shortly after Thanksgiving. I took a step away from it with my Jushi Mill deck, but I wanted to revisit The Mole and show its evolution after some play, some thought, and some time.
For those new to my articles, I - and others, as you can see in Whack-A-Mole's commentary thread - think that Suppression Field has the potential to be a very useful disruptive card. Obviously, it's difficult to build a deck around something like it - but I consider it as valuable to the metagame as Pithing Needle, which seems to appear in the maindeck of various tournament creations more and more each day.
Pithing Needle is great, don't get me wrong, but it's one-for-one. Suppression Field hits more cards, more consistently, and can disrupt multiple cards in each deck. It's worth stating that even when I was getting my face kicked in by a deck earlier this evening - more on that in a second - Suppression Field was enough to gain me many, many more turns than I deserved. The disadvantage with Field is that it's hard to find cards that you want to use that don't have an activated effect. Oy vey. It's gonna be a headache. Speaking of activated effects, someone suggested Damping Matrix. Despite intriguing me, it isn't the right fit for my deck, because it doesn't affect the graveyard. I see too much graveyard interaction in this format. Damping Matrix would work best in an aggressive deck that intended to outrace everything else.
I'm still learning Extended, though. I had the Slide deck explained to me for the first time, and my eyes opened like a kid on Christmas morning. I've always liked decks that answer beatdown decks - primarily because when I was first learning Magic, my two more frequent opponents played that.
Uh oh. I sense an extended flashback coming on. No pun intended.
I swear, every old player has had the Scryb Sprite / Flying Men / Giant Growth / Berserk / Unstable Mutation monstrosity own them at some point - either that, or they did the owning. My other opponent, Scott Forster (obligatory mention to massage his ego) tutored me in burn, burn, burn, and more burn.
As you can imagine, I adapted. It took me awhile, but like a turtle, I tucked myself into a shell of White creatures and removal and lifegain and hid, just trying to withstand the onslaught until they ran out of steam.
It worked, too. I finally stopped accruing more dents in my skull, and started frustrating my opponents with Circles of Protection, Swords to Plowshares, Healing Salves (yes, Healing Salves actually were useful back then, for me at least), Savannah Lions... and like so many other turtles picked on by schoolyard bullies, eventually I learned to fight back, and it started with those Savannah Lions, who were simply amazing because they were OMG 2/1 for one mana. I made "White Lightning", with those, Thunder Spirits, White Knights, and all sorts of goodness. Nah, I didn't read about it - back then, there wasn't anywhere to read about it. You just kinda figured stuff out.
We all do a lot of that. Parallel development is common - the environment of Magic dictates that multiple people will think of the same things and try and put them into practice. I think we're seeing that now with Suppression Field. Whether successful or not, people will test how useful it is. Back then, I learned that the best defense could be a good offense. White, despite its defensive nature, paired best and most consistently for me with red, the color of destruction and alacrity. Of course, my opponents learned to stop the White Lightning deck; one just went to Green Fatties as his deck of choice, and my Lions ran themselves into, well, bigger things that ate them. That's no fun. I learned that what I needed to do was? Anyone? Right. Stop those Green threats from hitting the board.
That's when I learned about Blue and became a Control player. Control sustained me a heck of a lot longer. What I find interesting about Control is that, in general, it's the same consistent deck theory from expansion to expansion. Beatdown changes a lot. A Boros Deck Wins is different than, say, a Fires of Yavimaya deck was, which is different than, say, Blue Skies. But Control decks? Blue and White, living together in perfect harmony. You have counterspells, Wraths, bounce, card drawing, and 2-4 finishers. Kjeldoran Outpost or Meloku, I don't care. Blinding Angel or Exalted Angel? Whatever. Morphling? Sure.
You get the point. It just feels the same. Control is like riding a bike - once you get it, you never forget. Ever. I wrote about Control last time, with Jushi Mill, which is still giving me excellent results. I've always had good results with control - but because I skewed that direction, my opponents began to work towards... anyone? Yup. Disruption. This time, however, I had a bit of a problem. Disruption can come in all forms - I couldn't just play, well, a deck that beats disruption. Disruptive elements are in control decks, Midgame decks, aggro-control decks; even some Beatdown and Combo decks.
I wrote about disruption in Whack-A-Mole, and won't repeat what I said there, but I felt you might want a bit more background. After all, everyone who reads this is intimately concerned about my history, right? I'm like that pen pal across the ocean, that guy you wanna have a beer or coffee with and ruminate about casual Magic stuff with. Right?
I'm glad you guys can't *really* answer me.
Seriously, this 4am stuff has to stop. Let's end the flashback, I'm getting loopy.
The result of my deck introspection regarding Extended is:
You need an engine.
An engine is something that allows you to replicate an effect and sustain momentum. An engine typically revolves around two concepts; one is card drawing, and the other is recursion. Even newcomers to Magic quickly realize that both of these concepts equal good times. These engines are, however, rarely completely self-sustaining. They require mana, or resources, or a willingness to gamble a bit. They make your deck go. They can turn defeats into losses. They cause chain reactions and momentum shifts.
Standard does not prepare you for the speed and general brokenness of Extended. I was looking at decklists and summarizations from the pre-Ravnica environment when I was trying to figure Extended out. Know what those lists didn't have? Life from the Loam. This innocuous card is seriously disturbing, because it is perhaps the most powerful engine in existence at the moment. Whether it's card-drawing or Tog-feeding, it's amazing. When the engine kicks in, you see it, you feel it, and the opponent hopes he has one that can answer its raw power.
That's not the only engine that's out there, but it's the most broken one because it recurs itself unless your opponent packs graveyard hate - and even then, if you have an instant-speed draw effect you can preserve your Loam if necessary.
A second engine is Eternal Witness, which I simply adore. She recurs, and recursion is good. You don't have 4 Putrefies in your deck, you have 8. You can abuse Witness with Astral Slide. You can pair it with Genesis. The CAL decks from GP: Bilbao and GP: Beijing catapulted into mainstream success on the back of *both* the Witness and the Loam engines, though only Dong Zhong's includes the Genesis in the listings I've seen.
A third engine is Isochron Scepter. It may not look like an engine, but being able to replicate a spell every turn? There ya go. Orim's Chant isn't the only spell that gets thrown on these. Lightning Helix. Telling Time. Terminate. Fire/Ice. Counterspell. It's customizable.
All of these are different on the surface, but they're pulling the strings. There are other cards such as Fact or Fiction or Gifts Ungiven that aren't engines, but help find the components for them. They're enginey. Is that a word? It is now.
Know what The Mole deck lacked?
Since I was just talking about engines, I hope that you don't really need me to tell you.
Let's take another look at it.
Did it lack good cards? No.
Did it lack cost-efficiency? No.
Did it lack a strong mana base? No.
It lacked an engine. It has no replicable effects or sustained momentum. It's decentralized by design, I remind you. It was intended to have a fair amount of both creatures and spells, but not overly much of either, with multiple potential win conditions. Night's Whisper was the best facilitator in the deck. I still really like it. But...
Let me take you on a quick walk - I promise - through two matches. It's an example of how good cards do not always equal success.
Game 1, against a Zooish deck.
That's pretty much how the game went. I could not defeat his pro-black creature. Not with Smother, not with Vindicate, not with Hypnotic Specter. Exalted Angel wasn't fast enough since, well, getting it out on turn 4 means it has to live through turn 3.
"Got any Lightning Helixes?"
A pro-black Voice of All was the icing on the cake.
Yes, Voice of All.
Game 2 was much of the same.
I get to do a neat opening of Swamp, pitch a card to Mox, Night's Whisper, which drew me a Specter that I dropped on turn 2. Unfortunately, he is three mana, and Lightning Helix is two, and my opponent had two mana. I was beat down by Kird Apes, a Watchwolf that my Spectral Lynx blocked, and a White Knight That I Cannot Kill. My hand was something like Verdict, Rancid Earth, Suppression Field, Land, Land. Well, at least the Lynx proved useful.
I see that we have a serious problem here.
His generation of threat > my generation of disruption.
Okay, fine, I'll try another opponent. I think he took it easy on me this time, because now he's playing a nice, slow, easygoing deck. Look, Blue/White! Haha, it must be control! I know how to face control, no problem. Let me at 'em! He wins the roll, but I have Rancid Earth, Vindicate, Hypnotic Specter, I'm good to go.
It's downhill from here. Rancid Earth gets countered, Specter gets countered, and it's all over but the crying when he drops a Crucible of Worlds with two mana left up. I Verdict a couple of times. I get some countered Vindicate action. Exalted Angel is laughed at. I quietly die to Stalking Stones and aix Decree of Justice soldiers.
Grrr. At least I lasted longer.
Next game, I think I'll be clever. I sideboard in Engineered Plague for the Smothers.
My turn 1: Plains
His turn 1: Island
My turn 2: Swamp, Suppression Field.
His turn 2: Adarkar Wastes
My turn 3: Swamp, Engineered Plague for Soldiers
His turn 3: Plains, Crucible of Worlds
My turn 4: Tainted Field, Hypnotic Specter
His turn 4: Wrath of God.
He said "Overkill," but you know, I wasn't. Specter *is* dangerous to control. It's just not dangerous to, oh, anything else.
Okay, it is a little, but all of those concerns I had about it? They reared their ugly head. As you can imagine, turns 5 through 30 were pretty much, well, now I have nothing to do. Admittedly, Field held off the Stalking Stones very well, and kept the Blinkmoths in check. He didn't have enough mana to activate things and keep his counter defense active, which was great. I had hope, but because I lacked true threats except for discard, he just pitched stuff to Gerrard's and dared me to do anything that might be construed as dangerous to him. I didn't. When Akroma's Vengeance swept away my Plague and Field, I was done for, and Vindicate doesn't do a damn thing against Stalking Stones or Blinkmoths, and certainly not against haha-your-Field-is-gone-let's-Decree-2-Angels.
Yeah, changes gotta be made. They need to change "Extended" to "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Effects".
I need an engine. I need something to keep me running, or allow me to either catch up or pull ahead. You don't want to sit there turning the crank hoping something turns up. No, you want to be able to be able to drive your deck.
I think I might have made that analogy before.
As it is, all the other decks I see outdraw, outrace, or outgenerate this one. Period.
That's fine, it's a starting point. The purpose of this exercise is to examine how a deck analyzes its weaknesses and improves upon them without losing sight of its goal.
Last week, I said this:
"One, are 12 creatures enough to win with? And two, is Specter worth the slot, or should he be ditched. . .?"
I also said this:
"The challenge for me is to not lose sight of what I'm trying to do, which is to keep pressure on from the start."
Let's answer these by examining each section of the deck.
4 Spectral Lynx
4 Hypnotic Specter
4 Exalted Angel
No, 12 creatures were not enough with this type of deck. I wasn't doing enough otherwise to create any sort of pressure. Every now and then I'd sputter and cough my way to life before dying again. Keep turning that crank. If you're going to win with 12 creatures, you need 24+ other spells that are going to dictate the pace of the game.
What Spectral Lynx Does: Trades well, blocks useful creatures, and is durable against both burn and creature damage due to regenerate.
What Spectral Lynx Doesn't Do: Fly, or interact well with Suppression Field.
What Hypnotic Specter Does: Flies. Becomes a must-answer card for Control. (Hey, sounds great! But...)
What Hypnotic Specter Doesn't Do: Survive. No, seriously. In Extended, Control has more answers than you have Specters. They're built to stop Affinity decks. Seriously. They're built to stop incredible monstrosities utilizing ridiculous mechanics. If the deckbuilder has a modicum of skill, they cannot build a deck that can't answer a 2/2 flyer on turn 3 unless they pack nothing but artifact hate because they think that other aggro decks simply don't exist. So, Specter gets Helixed, Force Spiked, Wrathed, Smothered, Terminated, Jetted, Rifted, Putrefied, Fired, Vindicated, killed by the Angel that dropped on your opponent's turn for the same mana and flipped over the turn after, or just plain trades with something as ignoble as a Leonin Skyhunter. If it isn't killed, it gives itself up to block something bigger than it coming from the other direction from decks with bigger and more aggressive creatures than Specter.
Now, that's a list of Cons. No, I'm not bitter at all.
What Exalted Angel Does: Bears out early, Morphs early, and becomes a 4/5 flying beatstick that helps you gain life!
What Exalted Angel Doesn't Do: See Hypnotic Specter. Survive. Without protection or additional threats, it's the lucky recipient of whatever removal spell is left after Specter gets blasted out of the sky. I was excited about this card, but I think it's a better fit for a true control build. I can't blame everything on the Angel--really, in the Beatdown match I was just on my heels too quickly for it to matter. However, on turn 3 I was often forced to do anything but lay a 2/2 bear.
4 Suppression Field
4 Rancid Earth
4 Gerrard's Verdict
I'm not really analyzing Suppression Field, because, well, I did that already and it did its job just fine.
What Smother Doesn't Do: Kill Frogmites, Myr Enforcers, Loxodon Hierarchs, a horde of Soldiers, or anything with pro-black. Really, it's fine, I just need to not run into stupid pro-black creatures. Protection is my schtick, not theirs. What gives? It's unfair, I tell you. All White effects are reserved for me.
What Gerrard's Verdict Does: Nets you two-for-one, and allows you to gain small card advantage late. Acts as something of a lifegain mechanism.
What Gerrard's Verdict Doesn't Do: Get Cards You Need To Get Rid Of. Allow you to see your opponent's hand.
What Vindicate Does: Destroy almost anything that isn't pro-black. Act as a versatile and efficient answer to problem cards.
What Vindicate Doesn't Do: The above, at instant speed. That's always been Vindicate's primary drawback, but I think most of us can agree that as a sorcery it's balanced. It's just how Vindicate is, and it's a good backup to Smother. The only problem is, as stated, the reliance on black removal.
What Rancid Earth Does: Destroys a land! When Threshold's active, it's weenie removal.
What Rancid Earth Doesn't Do: Anything of importance if you are facing someone with an explosively fast start. If you face a Savannah Lions/Watchwolf opening off a Plains, Mox-pitch green, Temple Garden, as a random example, what are you doing? Your Vindicates are going to remove critters, not lands, and Rancid Earth on the Temple Garden doesn't disrupt their manabase as we'd dreamed. Oh no, they're reduced to two mana after their second turn! That's...not that bad, unless you have some way to follow it up with more. Simply, I underestimated the environment's speed. That's okay, we all make mistakes. Like Rancid Earth. The Red decks out there packing Molten Rain and Stone Rain and Pillage are... different. They pack more destructive capability when it comes to permanents, period. If you're going to utilize LD, I'm becoming more and more certain you gotta heavily skew Red. For an excellent example, look at Tsuyoshi Fujita's BDW from the Top 8 of PTLA. I really like his deck.
There's no need to analyze this area card by card. Night's Whisper was fine. It's not instant speed, but it did its job - card drawing without much hassle. I still like it, but it isn't going to match some of the other engines out there. I had no problems with the mana-base. Really, it was the most consistent thing about the deck. It's biased towards black because of the Earths/Specters, but I had no difficulty getting white mana either. Tainted Field is one of those odd card cycles that surprised me when I came across it. Really, it helps make up somewhat for not having the Orzhov dual until Guildpact. Obviously, you don't want to run 4, because it'll dilute the Swamps that make the land useful. Two seems just the right number.
The Lights are too useful in a myriad of matchups, whether it's for stopping Gifts Ungiven or preventing an Orim's Chant on an important turn. Plague is good against a number of annoying cards like Lavamancer and Confidant in addition to Goblins, but I'm not sure if it's going to prove out. Paladin is a great card whose virtues don't need to be restated, and Coffin Purge is the mandatory graveyard hate that decks have to pack.
Okay, let's get cracking.
Yeah, that creature base is a wee bit different now, isn't it? I received a lot of suggestions (thanks) and decided that the part that needed the most work were the creatures.
First, we needed to upgrade our engine. Night's Whisper, I'm sorry. It's not you, it's me. Maybe we can still get together in some other decks, and still hang out and be friends.
Dark Confidant is more painful, yes. He's also more consistent, and somewhat self-removing if you just run him at your opponent or use him to block. I dislike killing myself versus burn, but the generation of cards is simply worth the risk.
Withered Wretch was one a lot of people suggested, and I have to agree that it's a perfect card for the environment. It fills what I swear sometimes seems the necessary role of maindeck graveyard removal. It's not, however, a perfect card for the deck. Its activation cost is not quite prohibitive with Suppression Field, but it's enough to have turned me off to the card initially. However, if I was willing to include the Lynxes, I should be willing to include the Wretches, because the Lynxes are fine. They even block new techy cards like Phantom Centaur that lay outside of Smother range.
Descendant of Kiyomaro was an interesting choice. I wanted something to mitigate what Dark Confidant was doing to my life total - lowering it further and further. Pulse of the Fields was something I considered, but with a Confidant pinging me every turn, I didn't know how often I'd actually have more life. So, I went to my friend The Gatherer and looked up what lifegain methods there were.
Wow, there's a lot of lifegain. But you know, I wanted more creatures, and I was hoping for something like Exalted Angel that was cheaper and faster. Even a Radiant's Dragoons effect would have intrigued me. Cheaper and faster, cheaper and faster, hmmm...
No, I'm not going to go through all 65 lifegain cards and give you the pros and cons here. I'll save that for the removal section. *cackle* The best of the bunch were Ghost-Lit Redeemer, and, um, well.... no clerics for Doubtless One, no slivers for Essence Sliver, Teroh's Faithful is just *too* small for four mana, Angel of Mercy worthless (if I'm going to play Angel of Mercy, I'll play Exalted Angel instead)...
Yeah, you get the point. That many cards, that few options. Descendant of Kiyomaro, however, is only 3 mana, gains me life, and is 3/5. Well, as long as I have more cards in hand than my opponent... Really, should that be a problem? We have discard, staller-types, and a 2/3 for three isn't horrible. It's not great, but it's not horrible. Hmm. Let's give him a shot. I'm not sold on having four of him, but I can do three. It's a strange day when I'm putting Hypnotic Specter on the shelf for a guy who just might be 2/3 all the time.
Eternal Dragon is the type of one-of win condition that I always seem to throw in my deck. It recurs, and it's decently fat, and you don't want to draw it with Confidant. That is reason enough not to include it, you might think, and you might be correct. I know he won't hurt me, however. I had a good talk with him, and sternly instructed Mr. Dragon never to bite me in the ass. Everyone who thinks he'll listen, raise their hand.
I don't see any hands.
Trust me, he's tame.
Already, the creature base looks a lot more threatening. Essentially we've gone from Specters and Paladins to Confidants, Wretches, Descendants, and The Dragon That Will Not Kill Us. We have more early defense, more card drawing, and even though the Paladins are really still a solid and underrated card, they get shuffled to the sideboard.
The disruption portion of the deck is mostly the same, except that I added Duress. Why wasn't Duress in there to begin with? Why did I skip Duress? My deck argued with me. In Whack-A-Mole, I said it wanted Duress, because it wins games and is more generally useful. Why didn't I listen?
Duress is a set up card. It's an enabler. It gives you a first-turn method of establishing your strategy. More than just a peek at their deck, it's a threat-grabber. Yes, it will run into some dead hands, but Duress is a must-play. Some decks out there packing Duress and Cabal Therapy both use Duress to set up the Therapy - take away their Duress, make 'em guess. Chances are they'll guess wrong. When you couple Duress with Gerrard's Verdict, you have a powerful 1-2 punch that has the side benefit of making up some of the life loss from Confidant. That's another reason I'm fine at the moment with 3 Descendants; you usually snatch a spell and a land, except from the crazy people playing with 800 fetchlands and two mana producers.
Hyperbole? Me? Never.
Just like that, you have a new deck. A more offensive deck, a more proactive one.
I took a lot of time trying to find a White removal source for the sideboard. Devouring Light is the closest I can find to a reliable and versatile White removal spell. Unfortunately, there's never going to be a Swords to Plowshares again, although I'm admittedly curious what the B/W and U/W versions of Lightning Helix will be. It'd be great to have a remove from game effect coupled with a cantrip or life gain/loss. I'm seriously looking forward to Guildpact.
When I examined the cards, I thought it was interesting how many removal spells there were, but how useless many of them are in non-Limited events.
Let's look at destroy effects first: Chastise is too expensive. Purge is too limited in scope; it's a sideboard card. Reprisal is nice, but has the power 4 or greater limitation. Retaliate is cute, but four-mana really pushes things out of range. Terashi's Verdict has the opposite problem, but is at least something we could seriously consider if not for the fact that Affinity and Tog decks can both make their creatures quickly hop out of range. Vanquish isn't reasonably costed with Devouring Light around. Vengeance is way too slow. Winnow is cute, but unlike the Echoing whatevers, there has to be two of the same permanent in play for Winnow to work.
No luck there, really. Out of the cards listed, Terashi's Verdict is the best against aggro that isn't Affinity or Tog, whereas Purge is the best against Affinity and the Psychatog itself, but not its auxiliary creatures. I tend to view these cards as much more limited in scope than Smother. If a disruptive deck is going to succeed, it needs to have reach.
Maybe we can find some help in the remove from game category.
Astral Slide has its own deck, no room for it here. Devouring Light hits for both the aggressive and defensive role and can be powered out for a lower casting cost. It's clearly the best at the moment. Order/Chaos is useless to us, Otherworldly Journey best suited to evade and boost in an aggressive deck. Reciprocate is interesting and it's cheap. Very. Remove from the game target creature that dealt damage to you this turn. That has some possible uses, because it can remove things like a Grim Lavamancer that isn't attacking you. We'll keep it in mind. Second Thoughts? Too expensive. Soul Nova? Same. Treva's Charm? Just kidding, though with the Ravnica lands I'm sure that cycle of Planeshift uncommons is potentially more useful than people realize.
Our clear winners for targetable White removal are Devouring Light and Reciprocate. One is more offensive, one is more after-the-fact defensive. Right now, I'll go with Devouring Light, and see how it works, but I honestly wouldn't be overly surprised if Reciprocate turned out to be more useful in the metagame.
That's The Mole, 2.0. It's turned into something more threatening, and I suspect that if Orzhov was in the mix, it could develop even further. As I alluded to in my Jushi article last week, Ravnica seriously affects the metagame in Standard. It also affects Extended, but because of the larger card pool, it's not quite as noticeable. It's when you start trying to play non-Ravnica color pairs and looking for efficient filler cards that you notice the lack of a Watchwolf or Lightning Helix or Loxodon Hierarch or Putrefy. Black/White had some very nice cards from before, though, so it's not quite as bad as trying to make a Red/Blue deck, for example. Suffocating Blast, how I wish you'd been a good card.
Speaking of Red/Blue, the Izzet must have the weirdest attempt-to-be-hip name ever.
"This is our master dragon, Niv-Mizzet, he's the L of the Izzet, yo."
Previews start in January, I think. However, there's a goodly amount of time for competitive Extended yet. Maybe this deck will give you a jumping off point for something different to play or throw into your gauntlet. Regardless, as always I hope you enjoyed the analysis. Remember, the reasoning behind the cards is as important as the card themselves. Keep the comments coming in.