Let me tell you a story.
Extended season, for me, started in 2009 during Pro Tour: Austin. After some playtesting with friends and various people on Magic Online, I had narrowed my decision down to a few different decks. However, all of that went out the window once we actually arrived at the site, since there was a ton of buzz over Dark Depths being an actual deck. Before that tournament, the combo of Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths was something of a joke. Sure, it combined well enough with tutors like Beseech the Queen, and even had a ton of synergy with cards like Grim Discovery, but it just didn't seem like it could be consistent enough. But if that was the case, then why were the dealers selling Dark Depths for 40?
After some brainstorming with friends Will Cruse and Chris Greene, we decided that Affinity actually had a decent matchup against Dark Depths, since you have Ornithopters, Blinkmoth Nexus, and a really fast clock. Additionally, we ended up playing Path to Exile as another answer, since it was another card that was really good against Zoo. My original plans for playing either Zoo or Dredge had been flung entirely out the window, and we just moved all in on Arcbound Ravagers, and it ended up costing us. Names like Cedric Phillips and Charles Gindy both approved of the robots for many of the same reasons, but we all failed miserably together. Affinity, even built right, was just not powerful enough to compete with the format's powerful combo decks. It even had problems with Zoo, since they were all packing Path to Exile and Qasali Pridemage. So, I went 0-3, and my dreams of doing well in a premier tournament other than Nationals was pushed to the wayside until I could battle in Rome with the rest of the U.S. National team.
A few months later, my wife won a StarCityGames.com Open in Nashville playing the same deck as me, where I had also made Top 8. Eldrazi Green was just a sick deck for that tournament because literally no one expected it. I had been testing it and kept it under wraps on Magic Online, playing only in a few 8-man tournaments and head to head playtesting against the deck's creator. I couldn't lose with the deck, and Jund was a virtual bye, since no one knew what I was doing. After we both made it to the Top 8, we had to face each other. However, that guaranteed us to have more money, since we share finances, so I was not unhappy. This happened before StarCityGames.com decided to start giving tournament points to players in Top 8's, so there was nothing really at stake other than money for us, and she legitimately beat the crap out of me. The mirror match for Eldrazi was very awkward sometimes.
After the StarCityGames.com event, we flew to Rome and met up with fellow teammates and friends, preparing for battle on the world's largest stage for Magic. It was an amazing trip and we have friends and memories from that event that will last a long time. Before that tournament, I was not really familiar with a lot of names at the higher levels of Magic. Many reached out to me, helped me become a better player, and became friends of mine. I will be the first to admit that I am a very emotional person, and winning at Magic means a lot to me. At Worlds, I did not do well, starting off Day 1 with a 2-4 record, but tried to redeem myself by going 4-2 in the second day. However, the wheels just fell off the bus in the Extended portion once again, since I was totally unprepared for what I would be playing against. At 6-6, I needed to 6-0 to make any relevant placing, which meant that I had to gamble a little bit. Hypergenesis was the deck I chose because I felt like it had a lot of unbeatable draws, but your matchups versus a few cards or decks were pretty bad. Faeries was probably the worst matchup, even though it was not popular at the time, and it ended up being my first loss in the third Day. I decided to keep playing to try to make some small amount of money, but lost once against to Hive Mind in the 2nd Round, which I actually had never seen before. When I put a Progenitus into play on Turn 2, I thought I was going to win, but he played a Hive Mind, cast Pact of the Titan on his turn, and that was that. My dreams of Extended were done for another short while.
With the Extended PTQ season on the horizon for San Juan, I decided I would make it my top priority to find out what deck was the best, and just play that. I feel like I'm a decent enough player to pick up the best deck and do consistently well with it, and especially so if I play with it enough. This was true for Faeries throughout its entirety in Standard, Block, and even a stint in Extended (with and without Bitterblossom). At the beginning of the Extended Season, I felt like people were very unprepared for combo decks, since the Zoo decks were the only people packing hate for cards like Scapeshift and the like. Everyone and their brother played Path to Exile, so it was my goal to blank as many cards as possible with a single deck, while still having an incredible game plan. At the time, most people just opted to play Brian Kibler's Zoo deck from Austin, Scapeshift, as well as a smattering of random things like Mono Red Burn, Faeries, and the like. Scapeshift was clearly one of the better choices, since you had answers to pretty much anything, as well as solid counterspells and ridiculous acceleration. Winning on Turn 4 didn't happen too often, but Turn 5 with a ton of protection happened on a regular basis. After a while, people began to actually recognize Scapeshift as the strongest archetype, which resulted in decks like Faeries gaining enormous amounts of popularity, which made Scapeshift bad.
After this, I decided I would once against change decks, and figured Zoo was pretty ridiculous in a field full of the flying menace(s). Wild Nacatl and friends really put a hurt on Faeries, and especially so if you knew how to play around most of their bigger problem cards. Mistbind Clique were real beatings against you if you walked into it, but you could figure out their hand with relative ease by how they tapped their mana or timed their spells. Jitte, Mistbind Clique, and Bitterblossom were the problematic cards for you if you were playing Zoo, but you were otherwise fine if they didn't have a solid draw that included some of those cards. At the time, Zoo was still really popular as well, and I built a Zoo deck that had a decent matchup versus the mirror, Scapeshift, and Faeries by playing cards like Gaddock Teeg, Tribal Flames, Ranger of Eos, and cards in the sideboard like Aven Mindcensor, Thoughtseize, and Deathmark. Faeries was not a deck you could really sideboard against, other than Meddling Mage or something random like Volcanic Fallout, but your deck was pretty good against them anyway. After battling in a few PTQs, I got second place with virtually the same decklist in two different tournaments in a short period of three days. After that, I decided that the deck was good but maybe not good enough. Was there was something I was missing?
Enter Gerry Thompson and his mythical Thopter Depths deck, which literally broke the format in half. Before that tournament, no one had found the correct build of a hybridized version that contained both combos of Thopter Foundry, Sword of the Meek, Dark Depths, and Vampire Hexmage. Both combos were really good on their own, but were just ridiculous when combined in a shell featuring winners like Thirst for Knowledge and Muddle the Mixture. Add Dark Confidant, Beseech the Queen, and a few cards to tutor for and you had yourself one monstrosity that claimed PTQ after PTQ, and even put Adam Yurchick in the finals of Grand Prix: Oakland. Everyone and their brother wanted to play Thopter Depths (or DDT), including myself. I played a PTQ with the deck in Atlanta, placing 3rd while losing to the eventual winner who was playing the mirror, friend Tom Bonneville. The deck was sick, and people were still really unprepared for it for about two or three weeks after Gerry had won. My favorite quote of all time was something I read from LSV to GerryT: "You really broke it, didn't you." LSV was playing in a random tournament on Magic Online with the deck, and I don't think he could have been happier with any other deck choice. The power level of the deck was just beyond that of any other deck in Extended, and I still believe that to be true today. While the deck does have some weaknesses, there are just no other decks on par with its power level. When we arrived in Oakland, most people had already figured out different ways to attack DDT, so it was looking much less attractive than it had before.
In Oakland, I decided to try to hate out the DDT decks with Zoo instead of actually battling with the best deck. Since I was very familiar with Zoo, I figured I would have a better shot at winning the tournament by staying out of the sights of people packing cards like Qasali Pridemage, Bant Charm, and Damping Matrix. At the time, Damping Matrix was just insane for that particular format. DDT players didn't play Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which made Damping Matrix shut down all of their potential win conditions. After building a Zoo deck that played tons of answers to DDT, including maindeck Bant Charms and Path to Exile, as well as Negate, Damping Matrix, and Meddling Mage in the sideboard, I was ready to beat a field full of the mirror and DDT. After starting off 7-2 on Day 1, I made my first ever Day 2 of a Grand Prix. It was only my 2nd constructed Grand Prix, and I was very happy to have made it to the 2nd day of play, since I consider myself to be much better at constructed than limited. My losses on the day were to two virtual mirrors, using Ranger of Eos and Bant Charm in the maindeck as well, and both losses came down to who drew more Rangers of Eos. During the second day of play, I lost yet another mirror for similar reasons, as well as a Living End deck (which is a pretty bad matchup for Zoo). I finished 33rd, which left me with a fire in my belly to try to accumulate 4 more Pro Points before the cutoff on May 31st, when the points from the previous season "roll over." I had 11, and needed 4 more to become Level 3 and qualify myself for a Pro Tour of my choice.
I had a few more PTQ's left to play, but most of them would be on Magic Online. I consider Magic Online PTQ's to be much more difficult than live ones, since the pool of players on Magic Online is stronger than your average pool in a particular region that can drive to a local event. While I wouldn't have to leave my house, the chances of me winning were much lower as a result. Furthermore, the players online are able to adapt to metagames much faster. After people began to develop more and more hate for DDT, the people still playing the deck decided to change their strategies post-sideboard. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was an amazing addition to the deck that gave you another win condition, as well as a card-drawing engine. His ability to keep your opponent from drawing their answers is yet another reason why he has become a staple for DDT, and will probably continue to see play in the coming seasons. Unfortunately, I just could not figure out how to beat Zoo, but I had an epiphany. Don't lose Game 1 by having an inferior deck.
After building multiple different decks that revolved around either Thopter Foundry or Dark Depths, I came to a conclusion: I could sideboard into whatever version of the deck I felt had the best chance of winning against whatever deck I was facing. Having only Thopter Foundry or only Dark Depths in your deck was just a mistake, because having both guaranteed that you could eventually find whatever is best against your opponent in the first game. After boarding, it was usually fine to side out copies of one of the combos for extra removal, answers, disruption, and Jace. While I was trying to build versions of UB without Dark Depths, people were just playing decks with insane Game 1's against the format, and could easily sideboard into whatever version of the deck they wanted to. It is even fine to side out most or all of the Dark Depths, since they don't actually tap for mana a good bit of the time, even if you are leaving in Vampire Hexmage as a beatdown plan, or an answer to opposing Jaces.
There was a Grand Prix in Japan recently where Scapeshift made a good showing, leading me to believe that I needed the Marit Lage plan if I wanted any shot of beating them in Game 1. Thopter Foundry is almost always too slow, and they can fight through plenty of disruption by having Ponder float their Scapeshift on the top of their deck, or just using Peer Through Depths to dig and dig for their combo. A field full of Scapeshift and random decks was reason enough for me to justify going back to Dark Depths in UB. The fact that people were doing well with the UB Thopter deck was awesome, but I just don't think it would have been the right choice for Houston. People would be prepared for Marit Lage, but it was such a large field that I figured I had good odds to outplay and just outdraw people due to the ridiculous power level of DDT.
With all of my preparation leading up to this moment, I felt nervous, but confident in my decision. I lost in the second Round of a GPT against Bantwagon, which was a little disheartening, but his draws were pretty stellar. I also misplayed, which cost me the game, so I decided that I was just going to play the deck and hope I did a bit better next time. Many of the plays with DDT are not obvious, and there are plenty of decision trees you can follow, but each draw step could yield information that made your previous play much worse than you originally thought. DDT is an insanely difficult deck to play, and I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who has not had sufficient practice with it. If I could play DDT in the last PTQ of the season, I would play my exact list from the Grand Prix:
After arriving in Houston alongside traveling companion Will Cruse, we decide to rent a car and drive down to the event site. We meet up with some friends, and figure out what we're going to play. I finally decided to play DDT, even though I considered an audible to Scapeshift based on the high numbers of expected Zoo decks. DDT was what I had the most experience with, and I couldn't have been happier with my choice. After losing in the GPT, I didn't let it get me down, but I didn't really have the funds to justify battling in more trials, so we were going to go get some dinner while Will Cruse finished trading with a few dealers. Ed Greer, Will Besant, as well as Austin Bursavich made the trip to a local Italian place called Josephine's with me to get our food on. It was decent, but I wouldn't really recommend it if you are looking for stellar taste and price. Our friend Chris Carnesworth was kind enough to put us up for the weekend, alongside such names as Brian Kibler and Cedric Phillips. It was fun times for all.
After a decent night's sleep, I woke up listening to The Desaparecidos, as well as Red Bull and Chik-Fil-A (also known as a very good morning). We headed up to the event site, but I was already registered from the night before, so we weren't in a big hurry. We got to the site with about 30 minutes to spare before the player meeting, but I also had another two hours to kill before my first round started. I only had two byes, while everyone else in the group had three, but we wandered over to the local mall to waste some time. They got some lunch, but I wasn't very hungry at all and decided to just tag along and chug some water while mentally preparing myself for the incredibly long day ahead. With Marit Lage on my mind, I decided to run through a few sideboarding plans for various matchups I was sure to face. After getting back to the event site at the end of the first round, I walked around to a few of the dealer tables to talk to some friends, as well as pick up a few t-shirts from StarCityGames.com. After the second round was over, I headed over to the event tables and waited for my pairings. Just for reference, my notes were pretty nonexistent, since I was trying to focus more on actually playing than writing things down about specific game states. I remember all of the decks I played against, as well as a general idea of how the games progressed, and I'll try my best to recreate them.
Rounds 1-2 - Bye
Round 3 - Feature Match against Kenny Castor playing UB Thopter Faeries
This match was featured on ggslive.com, but not on the Wizards home page. There actually wasn't a lot to tell about this match, other than I just got absolutely destroyed. Thopter Faeries is one of the worst matchups imaginable for DDT, since you are playing somewhat of a mirror match except they have counterspells and Bitterblossom. In the opening game, I lost the die roll, and Kenny was able to stick a Dark Confidant, followed by some counterspells and disruption for my combos. I was able to make a Marit Lage, but he topdecked Jace to bounce it after blocking with a Bitterblossom token.
I was pretty disappointed after this matchup, and briefly wished I had chosen a different deck to bring to the table. However, I knew that getting paired against that particular deck was pretty unlucky, since it is a terrible matchup and not a very popular deck. It is solid, don't get me wrong, but seems to have a few problems with most variants of Zoo if they are packing Bant Charm and Qasali Pridemage. I cheered up, and just decided to power through and try to crush the rest of my opponents.
Round 4 against BG Smallpox
This round I won the roll, and opened with a pretty sick hand. However, he had other plans with double Thoughtseize to take my Thirst for Knowledge and Jace. On the third turn, I transmuted Tolaria West for Dark Depths since I had topdecked Vampire Hexmage. However, he plays Stupor, which randomly hits the Vampire Hexmage, and I opt to discard an extra Urborg, leaving me with only Tolaria West and Dark Depths. Luckily, I draw a Compulsive Research, giving me both Muddle the Mixture and Thopter Foundry. This lets me assemble Thopter Sword while he plays a random creature. I end up making both combos before he is able to kill me, and I swarm him with 1/1s.
I sideboard in a few Deathmarks for his Tarmogoyfs, but not all of them since a lot of his creatures were Black. He opens with two Augur of Skulls, which I don't Smother since I have a few removal spells in hand, as well as some card draw an extra lands. He rips my hand apart, but I drew really well and end up using Jace's Ultimate after gaining control of the board with a pair of Smothers.
After this round, I had gotten a little confidence back. I felt like I drew very well in that match, but I played well too. If I could keep it up, hopefully I'd make Day 2 and go from there. Top 16 was my goal, since it would qualify me for San Juan (which had been my goal from the beginning of the Extended season). I had gotten close a few times, and had a real hunger for the format. This was it. This was the turning point.
Round 5 against DDT (mirror)
This round was fairly standard as far as mirrors go. I won the die roll, and opened with a Turn 1 Dark Confidant. This happening on the play goes a long way in winning the mirror. Dark Confidant is just ridiculous when left unmolested, and there aren't a ton of ways to deal with him in the mirror, which is one of the reasons why I played 3 Smothers. After drawing a ton of cards, I was able to Thoughtseize my opponent's Thopter Foundries, and played my own Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek. He couldn't do anything and was shortly overwhelmed.
Game 2 I kept a pretty sketchy opener, but it contained a few draw spells, Repeal, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Awkwardly, he plays the "nuts" with an opening Thoughtseize, followed by Vampire Hexmage into Marit Lage on Turn 2. I didn't draw an answer and died in literally two minutes.
Game 3 was pretty similar to game 1, but this time I opened with Thoughtseize on his Dark Confidant, followed by a Dark Confidant of my own. I was able to assemble Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek before him, and had Extirpate to stop his combo so that mine would just run him over.
Round 6 against Bantwagon (created by Conley Woods in Oakland)
I was not really afraid of this deck, since it can't really deal with my combos when they are backed up by disruption and Muddle the Mixture. Deathmark and Jace are just ridiculous against them, and the sideboarding plan should be facilitated as such. I never sideboard the same with this deck, because each card you side in or out is vastly dependant on the card choices of your opponent. In the first game, I had an early Dark Confidant that went unanswered, and he just played a few dorks. I drew a few Smothers to off his Knight of the Reliquary and Tarmogoyf, and just mopped up with Marit Lage with Muddle protection.
The second game I had a Turn 2 Marit Lage with no protection, but he didn't have anything and just conceded. As an aside, you should always force your opponent to kill you with their 20/20. By conceding, you are just giving the game away. Often they will not risk losing their Marit Lage to a Path to Exile or Bant Charm, since they are playing a lot of protection cards. However, this becomes a game of Cat and Mouse, where you have to bluff it if you don't have it, and sandbag it when you do. A lot of times when playing Zoo, I'll knock the top of my deck or say something like "one time!" just to throw off my opponent, hoping they'll make a naked 20/20. If I don't have it, I'll just stay quiet and act like I do. If your opponent is a good player, you should mix up when you do both things to throw them off, since it is really just a mind game of "do you have it." By conceding, you could be giving up the chance to actually draw an answer when they are playing scared.
Round 7 against BG Depths
This matchup was a little awkward. My opponent was from Florida, which instantly made me put him on BG Depths. He said he had won the "original" PTQ in Florida with BG Depths, which caused a large chain reaction where a ton of players like Chris Fennell and friends jumped on the train with it. I think it is just inferior to DDT, but both decks have their strengths and weaknesses. Thopter Sword seems like a much better plan than Tarmogoyf, and I really love having draw spells to get rid of excess Urborgs and Dark Depths.
After chatting with him, he hints that he is not playing BG Depths, but I really don't believe him. I tell him I think he's playing Dredge, since he mentions something about the "matchup becoming much worse depending on how I sideboard, as well as how he sideboards." I win the die roll again, and we are off. He mulligans to 5 and keeps, while I play a Tolaria West tapped. He starts with Duress on my Thirst for Knowledge. I topdeck pretty well, and Thoughtseize his Dark Confidant. I follow that up with Dark Depths, keeping him from making a 20/20 in the coming turns. He legends me with Dark Depths, so I start playing Thopter Foundry, and eventually tutor for Sword of the Meek. He doesn't have much action, and eventually succumbs to the Thopters.
Game 2 is pretty close, but the same thing happens where I use Dark Depths defensively so that he can't kill me with Marit Lage. He plays a few Tarmogoys, but I'm ready with Smother for them. I'm able to stick a Dark Confidant, followed by Jace, but he uses Vampire Hexmage to off the Planeswalker. I draw another Jace, and keep the top card of his deck from being very harmful, and he never draws anything relevant.
Round 8 against Martin Juza playing DDT (mirror)
Going into this round, I'm pretty nervous. I'm not known for beating many pros in higher level events. Sure, I beat a few names at Nationals last year, but my record at the Pro Tour is anything but extraordinary. I know Juza is playing the mirror, and I win yet another die roll. I keep a hand that is pretty strong as long as he doesn't have a Repeal, since I can play Bob on Turn 2, and make a Marit Lage on Turn 3. He opens with an early Dark Confidant, which deals him 2 damage. His Turn 3 he opts to play a Thopter Foundry, Chrome Mox (imprinting a random card), followed by a Creeping Tar Pit. This gives me a window to kill him with a Repeal, Smother, or Engineered Explosives. I draw Smother off the Dark Confidant, and he concedes. After the game I ask him if he had another land to play instead of the Tar Pit, which would have let him sacrifice the Thopter Foundry to make an additional Thopter token to block. He admits that he did, but that it would have kept him from "doing what he wanted to do the next turn," which means play Jace, the Mind Sculptor to bounce the Marit Lage (since the Tar Pit was his second Blue source).
The second game is very convoluted, but I do remember some key specifics. He lands an early Phyrexian Arena, as well as a Threads of Disloyalty for my Dark Confidant. I use Smother to kill Bob, while playing Thopter Foundry and using my time to tutor for Sword of the Meek. In the mid-game he casts Oona, and I draw a Jace off of active Bob. I use Jace to bounce Oona, and buy me some much needed time. He also has Thopter-Sword active, and we are "mirroring." He opts to play Jace to kill Jace instead of just attacking it with a Creeping Tar Pit (while I'm tapped out), which I'm sure was a mistake. He then used Tolaria West to get Academy Ruins. While he is tapped out, after I had used Engineered Explosives to kill all two-drops, including a Bob that he stole against with Threads, and both of our Thopters and Swords. I did this because he was using his time to cast Oona and such while I was making Thopters, so I had a pretty large token advantage at the time. I use Tolaria West to get Academy Ruins, which will kill his Academy ruins on the next turn. Luckily, he doesn't have another artifact in play to sacrifice to the Thopter Foundry, getting back sword. I am able to put an immense amount of pressure on him with Thopters, since he spent a few turns just casting spells while I was making 1/1's. He opts to save a few Thopters in combat, making my Gatekeeper of Malakir in hand pretty weak against Oona. When he recasts Oona, I have to draw Jace or Repeal to stay alive, and luckily topdeck Jace to bounce Oona. He plays another Jace to kill mine, while I topdeck Thoughtseize for his Oona, followed by Vampire Hexmage and Gatekeeper of Malakir. I am able to attack him to death before he can draw anything else relevant, and his Phyrexian Arena ends up killing him.
This game was very long, and I will admit I got very lucky to win. I was put in a few awkward situations, but was able to squeak my way out of them due to a few lucky draws. I had a few cards I could have drawn at each point in the game to take control, and did. Sometimes you just run good. I probably should have mulliganed in Game 2, but my hand was pretty strong against an opposing Marit Lage plan, and had some decent draw spells. It lacked Black mana, but I could easily draw into that, or he could have played Urborg. I really hate mulliganing with DDT, since your hands can get progressively worse as you have tons of "legendary" cards like Chrome Mox, Dark Depths, and Urborg.
Round 9 against Mono Red Burn
Before this match starts, my opponent asks me how badly I really want to play. I assume that he wants to ID, but I tell him I lost in Round 3, which should make my tiebreakers pretty bad. I told him that if he was honest with me about what he was playing, I'd tell him what I was playing and we could consider an ID if I thought it might be a bad matchup. He agreed said he was playing Burn, and I told him I was playing DDT and I just couldn't draw.
Game 1 my opener had a Turn 2 Marit Lage, which was almost too slow since I was on the draw. Luckily, he didn't have Dead/Gone shenanigans or anything, and died to my 20/20.
Game 2 was pretty similar to the first, but I used Duress to make sure the coast was clear. He didn't have an answer to Marit Lage and conceded when he didn't draw anything relevant.
After the end of the round, I decided to round everyone up who was riding in our car and get some dinner. Subway ends up being the decision, since it is much tastier than both McDonalds and Taco Bell (as I really can't stand either of those unless I'm drunk). A tasty Meatball sandwich later, and I'm ready for bed. It is fairly late already, since Day 1 didn't end until about 8:30pm. I couldn't round everyone up until about 9:30, so it was past 10pm when we got back to the house. I turned off some lights around the living room, and covered my head with covers. This didn't work, since there were a lot of people still awake who were talking and gaming, so Will Cruse and I decided to watch some Starship Troopers. Unfortunately, it was the edited version on Spike, which makes the movie even more unwatchable. It was fun for a laugh or two, but I was ready to turn it off when everyone else decided to call it a night. Luckily, I got to sleep around 1am, giving me plenty of rest for the coming day.
Be sure to tune in next week, as I go over Day 2, an amazing night out at Fogo de Chao, drinking games with Brian Kibler, and a lot of Jager Bombs (have you seen my new haircut?). Hey, you gotta celebrate sometimes, right? Thanks for reading.
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