Austin is on the horizon, and I've been playtesting Extended like crazy over the last week and a half. Playtesting with real cards can be very difficult when you don't own a large collection, and even harder when most of your friends are uninterested in the format in question. Aside from all of this, I've gotten in a lot of games with a lot of different decks. During the time between release of a new set in real life and then 4 weeks later on Magic Online, anyone could get a little bored. Luckily I've found a good way to be constructive with my time and do some real work for Austin. If you're looking for a little insight on the format, or just a bit of information for the PTQ season to come, look no further!
As for Magic Online itself, one of my biggest complaints has always been that the paper release of sets never coincided with the Online release. While there are plenty of good reasons for this, it is still a big inconvenience to the players having to wait an entire month before they get their fix for new cards on MOL, as well as the ability to efficiently playtest for large events. That also leads to people playing dead formats for an extensive period of time, as can be seen by the final MOL Season Championship being "Old Standard," which is kind of an oxymoron if you think about it. I didn't even find the time to qualify, getting married and whatnot, but even if I had I probably would still not care enough to "break the format." Baneslayer Angel is good. You should probably play it. I won't get on a rant about the MOL champs, but just let me say that if I ever play a tournament where I go 9-1 in the swiss and don't make Top 8, someone is getting their head chopped off (this actually happened to two people at the last event, since their bye system really messes up Swiss standings).
After extensive hours of playtesting, I've discovered a few things about Extended that are general enough to share but still helpful:
1. Goblin Guide is not good. I was attacked by him about 200 times and it never mattered as much as giving me a land.
3. Fetchlands are amazing (obviously), but not every deck needs 8-12. A lot of control decks should try to find ways to run more basic lands. Aggressive decks can really punish you for playing too many Shocklands and Fetchlands.
4. I hate Hypergenesis. Seriously. **** it in the ear.
I have this sinking feeling that Hypergenesis is going to be "the deck" at the Pro Tour, since it is a combo that takes little effort to assemble, and all of the hate cards can be easily foiled. Luckily for Hypergenesis, most of the Blue-Goyf decks are a tad too slow to compete with some of the other combo decks, which may leave them with a ridiculously unprepared metagame come the PT. Chalice of the Void and Ethersworn Canonist are fine answers to Hypergenesis, but the problem is that they can actually cast their big spells when necessary via storage lands. On top of that, they pack anti-artifact cards like Krosan Grip and Ingot Chewer to destroy the foils to their combo. The problem with Hypergenesis isn't assembling the combo, its knowing when to go for the combo and when to wait until your hand is a little bit better. Let me explain:
Last night I played a game against someone playing Hypergenesis. Upon casting the cascade spell to get said Hypergenesis, I played Gifts Ungiven in response, searching for very large threats. Upon resolution of said Hypergenesis, I had more threats in play, giving me an advantage, even though it was my opponent who had "combo'ed out." Knowing exactly when to go for it and what counter measures to play against opposing "answers" should be the only challenge for people planning on playing this deck, which makes it a more potent weapon for an open format. Eliminating the ability to make mistakes could make the game less fun, but winning at a big event is more important than ego. When a deck is the "best deck," you should probably play it, even if the deck's strength eliminates your ability to outplay your opponent.
Dragonstorm from a few Standard seasons ago had the same problem. People didn't play it much, even though it was clearly the best deck, because they thought it took very little skill to pilot properly and very many games felt like solitaire. Winning consisted of making 9 mana before your opponent killed you, and casting a spell that won the game upon resolution. While there were a lot of things going on in the background, this is what ultimately mattered and the only thing people focused on. Instead of picking up and piloting the opposing deck for themselves and learning how to play with and against it, they chalked every loss up to luck or their lack of enough sideboarded hate cards. This line of thinking can be dangerous, and in this case especially so. A smart combo players knows what their deck is capable of, and chooses their deck based on that knowledge, and the assumptions that their opponents won't know how to play against them properly.
A lot of people will probably plan to go into this tournament with a few Chalices of the Void or Ethersworn Canonist in their sideboard and hope to dodge all of the Genesis decks. However, I sit here in front of you telling you that this is not enough. You can combat Hypergenesis in a few ways, and I'm going to tell you how to do exactly that.
1. Beat them before they reach three mana. This is done via a faster combo deck. In this case, I don't know if there is one, but if you can find a way to do it, feel free to win the PT.
2. Disrupt their hand to the point where they are in topdeck mode. The deck is linear, and has little card drawing or fixing, and zero cards that cost less than three mana. They will be able to play one spell a turn max, and you could probably play a Thoughtseize or two and put a substantial clock on them with a Tarmogoyf. Disruption backed by aggression could do the trick, but they will usually have the ability to topdeck and combo you out in this scenario. Know what you're risking by taking this route.
3. Ethersworn Canonist, Chalice of the Void, or other. These type of cards can prevent them from comboing off completely. However, they will be prepared with plenty of Krosan Grips and Ingot Chewers to munch on your answers, leaving you defenseless as they cascade and drop large monsters onto the battlefield. Krosan Grip gets through counterspells, but you can still counter their Hypergenesis, as they are unable to play Vexing Shusher or Guttural Response for fear of missing their cascade.
4. Countering the Hypergenesis itself. Like I mentioned earlier, it will not be likely that they have Vexing Shusher or Guttural Response, so this is probably the best way to fight against them. If you are playing blue, then you are probably going to be ok when it comes to playing against Hypergenesis. However, they will probably be playing a little disruption of their own, so be prepared. Spellstutter Sprite, Mana Leak, and Negate/Flashfreeze (out of the sideboard) are great ways to disrupt them. They do have an instant-speed cascade spell, so be careful when casting your spells, unless you enjoy getting 20'ed by Wound Reflection and Magister Sphinx in response to your Vendilion Clique.
5. Speaking of Vendilion Clique, he's an amazing way to put pressure on your opponent and disrupt them in one efficient package! In my opinion, he's still amazing, and everyone playing Islands should still play 4.
There are a few more things I'd like to talk about in Extended before the PT. If you haven't gotten the memo, Umezawa's Jitte is not what it used to be. Last year, there were a ton of decks where resolving a Jitte was GG. Today we do not live in the same world. Combo decks are everywhere, and there are no Elves! decks to justify playing this equipment in every deck that attacks. Sure, it can be a blowout in Zoo versus Zoo matchups, but in every other matchup it is becoming more and more... mediocre. Blue decks aren't relying on X/1's anymore, and they have trusty ol' Goyf to block your Apes and Cats. Even with Jitte attached, your guys will die and their Tarmogoyf will sometimes survive the -1/-1's. This is all excluding the fact that your opponent, while playing blue, will have plenty of Spell Snares and Engineered Explosives to shut down your party when you get excited, not to mention Jittes of their own to counterfeit yours.
In a vacuum, Jitte is a great card. Don't get me wrong, playing two is probably correct in the decks that want them. However, last year I strongly believed that Umezawa's Jitte was the best card in the format. Today that is not the case. Here you have a hostile world where tapping out can be incredibly dangerous, leaving you wide open for Wrath of God, Engineered Explosives, Hypergenesis, Cranial Plating, or (God forbid) the dreaded return of (you guessed it!) Dread Return! That being said, tapping out for anything can be particularly bad if you aren't set up to deal with the consequences. The key to winning in this format is simple: be prepared. In deckbuilding, as well as game play, be prepared for what you are going to play against, as well as what you might play against. Have a plan to beat those decks, and you should be in decent shape. With that said, I'll probably put my foot in my mouth come Friday and lose to the popular deck that no one saw coming!
I expect Austin to be a real test of skill for me. In order to be successful at the Pro Tour, you have to bring a good deck to the table, know what the field is going to look like, and have experience drafting the new set! This doesn't even account for the ability to lose due to play mistakes. All in all this may seem a bit overwhelming.... well, it is. This has been one of the most difficult testing experiences of my life, since I have very little access to the new set online for either drafting or constructed (aside from the Beta I started last week), and few people competitive enough to play the new formats around my hometown. I've had a little luck with limited over the past two weeks, getting enough drafts in where I feel ok about my chances, but not as confident as I should be. I'm still unsure as to what deck I'm going to play, which really bothers me. There are just too many good choices, and figuring out the one with the biggest surprise factor should be the ultimate challenge.
The good news is that I have a good idea of what the format will look like. The bad news is that I'm still not ready to confidently say I can beat it. I've been testing different control decks, different combo deck, and different aggro decks, but nothing seems to fit. I know that I'll be able to decide when the time comes, but I'd rather be piloting a deck that I've played before, as opposed to a concoction that "solves the format" in the wee hours of Thursday night. Believe me, that has happened before, and occasionally I've been correct in my assumptions. However, you should never go into a tournament never having played the deck you're piloting. I've done this a few too many times and it has left a sour taste in my mouth. The sad thing is, I lose early but get progressively better with the deck as the day goes on, meaning that all I needed was a regular amount of playtesting to do well with the deck!
For example, last year during Extended PTQ's, I played UR Mind's Desire after it won the Grand Prix in the hands of the one and only Luis Scott-Vargas. I had never played with the deck before, and didn't know a lot of the interactions necessary to perfectly pilot the deck. On top of this, the deck had a big gun pointed at its forehead, and hate was being slung left and right. After losing in the first round to a misplay, and second round to double Stifle and double Trickbind, I felt a bit dejected. However, I kept trucking along and finished up 5-3, even though my only other loss was to Elves! combo, which was a pretty bad matchup for Storm at the time. I could see the mistakes I had made in the first and second round much more clearly after having played the deck all day. This didn't really make me feel better, as anything short of a win at a PTQ makes the whole trip seem much less exciting, but I did learn a lot about myself and my abilities. I can't just pick up any deck and play perfectly. I have to practice. Making Top 8 is fine, but that just makes me hungry for the win all the more.
What I'm really trying to tell you is this: play what you know. I'm much better with control decks than with aggro or combo decks, so I'm probably going to lean towards that when making my final decision this week. That said, I could throw it all out the window and just fold to peer pressure, and play some combo deck that everyone may or may not be gunning for. Unfortunately, the Pro Tour is not the optimal stage for beating your opponent through sheer quality of deck, as combo decks usually have clear weaknesses that better players will be able to exploit. Most people will come to the table with good ideas and solid play, so my mental game has to be sharp to compete. These hours logged in playtesting have been very helpful, and I feel ready to play against any deck in the Extended portion of the tournament. Let's just hope I can figure out how to draft!
strong sad on MOL