The 2017-2018 season is going to be my 20th season as a gold Pro (or equivalent or better) and my 21st Grand Prix season. I haven't counted how many Grand Prix I've played since GP Barcelona in May 1997, but I believe “a lot” is an understatement.
Just like every year when the season starts, I feel the need to get on the scoreboard. While my motivation to play more Magic was close to non-existent after PT Kyoto, I got more and more into it when I found out there was a direct flight from Toulouse to Birmingham, and that I realized that Modern was a format I came to appreciate, mostly because I love toying with Bloodghast and such.
So I booked my ticket and got to work. With what I had in mind, I could only rely on myself to find innovations: no one in my test group or in my contacts like playing Dredge or Zombie Loam.
From what I remembered from the World Magic Cup, the latest version of Dredge with Prized Amalgam was what Zombie Loam always wanted to achieve. Sure, it doesn't have the funky feeling or discarding Squee and gaining life with Golgari Brownscale, but it's a million times more explosive.
Since then, Amonkhet came out and a new mechanic emerged: aftermath. When a set comes out, I always look out for cards that can be played from the graveyard, just in case they could fit into my pet deck. Amonkhet didn't quite deliver what I wanted for Zombie Loam, but Hour of Devastation offered a fantastic card: Driven // Despair. I could only picture it in my mind: turn two Zombie Infestation, turn three Driven, attack, draw two cards, make more zombies. Turn four Despair, take 8, discard your hand... the dream. I actually put the deck together, I added some Haunted Dead as it provided two creatures at once and worked great with the Aftermath card.
While I liked playing the deck, it was just a little too slow for the current format. I kept getting bashed by Scapeshift decks on Magic Online and other combo decks.
So I moved back to Dredge and I added Driven // Despair to it. I first tried with two copies. I loved using the card, but two proved to be too many. The deck needs a set number of each of its pieces –dredge cards, enablers, creatures – to work, and you can't cut any of these pieces without breaking the balance, at least for game one, so one was the right number.
|Driven // Despair||
The card replaces Rally the Peasants or Scourge Devil that older versions were playing. Rally the Peasants and Scourge Devil intended to gain you a turn or force more damage in one attack when you had a lot of creatures. If your opponent had bigger creatures, you would force a trade and get in there for more damage. Otherwise, you wouldn't be able to cast it. Despair allows you to sneak in more damage without being blocked (your creatures gain menace) while attacking your opponent's hand. It's cheaper (two mana) and the Driven part of the card can be useful when you're looking to fill your graveyard (drawing equals dredging, ding ding). All these cards (Rally, Devil, Driven // Despair) have the same problem: you need creatures already in play for it to be good. The conditions to play Despair are just more easily met and its effect more interesting.
So I played games with Dredge on Magic Online... a lot of games. And while I would beat pretty much everything, I had a tough time against combo decks such as Scapeshift, Ad Nauseam or Storm. It felt I was one turn too slow to win more reliably. Driven to Despair was good, but I needed to discard all of their hand to win and I never had enough creatures as they only had to keep a Primeval Titan or an Ad Nauseam in hand to win on the following turn.
I needed some kind of counter, or a way to interact with their combo. Thoughtseize or regular discard spells were not an option. For a card to be considered in a Dredge deck, it needs to fulfil one of the following: enable discard or be castable from the graveyard. Then I found Failure // Comply. I had considered it briefly in a tweet when Amonkhet came out for Zombie Loam, but the mana just wouldn't support blue and white.
At first, I was running the zero-fetch land version of Dredge, and with four Gemstone Mines and four Mana Confluence (I even added a City of Brass), it no problem to get either blue or white mana. I started testing the card and it was awesome.
|Failure // Comply||
What you want in Dredge is a way to prevent the key spells to be cast at the wrong time (for you). Anger of the Gods is bad news, Scapeshift is bad news, Primeval Titan is bad news... That particular matchup is pretty average, but you are just hoping that they can't goldfish faster than you or can't sweep your board at the wrong time. With Failure to Comply, you have a way to play around pretty much everything. If you have it in hand, it's not too hard to set up a board position and Remand their key spell. Then on your next turn, cast Comply and delay that spell another turn. The card can buy you up to two turns without expending many resources. Conflagrate, for example, accelerates your clock by one turn (one turn of attack) but at the cost of your whole hand and turn as you probably have to cast Life from the Loam to get enough fuel to make it lethal. Failure to Comply doesn't cost you as much. When you dredge one away, one white mana is a very little price to pay to buy you a turn.
There are versions of Dredge running Reduce // Rubble. It was decent, but that card can't really counter Scapeshift (your biggest problem) as they can usually pay the three mana, and the Rubble just costs too much for a pretty marginal effect.
Here are some other cool interactions with Failure to Comply that I found:
- Failure effectively counters Living End (fine, they can suspend it afterwards, good for them).
- Comply effectively counters Lotus Bloom (good thing that you know exactly when to cast it thanks to suspend).
- Failure can mess up the Storm player's math quite a lot. They go for Gift, cast Past in Flames from the graveyard, and you counter. And, by the way, they can't cast it again on the following turn.
Countermagic in super aggressive decks, when they can be cast easily, has historically been super efficient: Circular Logic in Blue-Green Madness, Remand in... any deck that ran Remand. Failure to Comply is the counter Dredge was looking for. It's not good against everything, just against the matchups that try to race you with a Combo.
In the article I wrote about the deck I played at the World Magic Cup, I advocated the no fetches version of the deck. At the time, it was probably correct. But now the more I was playing without fetches, the more I felt I needed them badly. How many times have I thought that could play around Anger of the Gods, or Supreme Verdict / Relic of Progenitus had I had any fetch...
With so many Scapeshift decks, it didn't feel right not to play fetches, but the problem was that the fetch version couldn't support Failure to Comply... Two Gemstone Mines weren't going to cut it, neither would three. There was also no way I would cut a fast land, a Stomping Ground or a Blood Crypt for a Steam Vent or a Sacred Foundry.
Soon enough, I found the solution to the puzzle: replace all the red fetches, Bloodstained Mire and Wooded Foothills for Arid Mesa and Scalding Tarn. That way, I could play Hallowed Fountain in the sideboard, adding seven white and blue sources in the deck.
Further testing proved that the mana worked and the strategy was solid. Here's the list I submitted for GP Birmingham:
One of the major difficulties with Dredge is sideboarding. In Modern, as all the decks are different and every player has an affinity for certain cards. That's also true for sideboard cards against Dredge. Some players just give up the matchup, or just play one Relic of the Progenitus, just in case. Some others run Rest in Peace even when they run Snapcaster Mage or Lingering Souls in their own deck, because they know Dredge is a terrible matchup.
In both cases, you have to be ready.
First let's talk about the decks you're not boarding in the Failure to Comply package. That includes a lot of decks, from all versions of Death's Shadow, to White-Blue Control, to Abzan, Eldrazi...
In most of these matchups, I board in two Ancient Grudge and an Abrupt Decay. If I believe my opponent is boarding in Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void, I board in Ray of Revelation. If I strongly believe he's boarding RIP, I board in the two Ray of Revelation and the second Abrupt Decay. If I'm absolutely certain he brings in a six-card package (Relic + RiP), I board in Destructive Revelry as well. There's no set rule. You have to pick up hints whenever you can. A quick review of all the winning decks from previous tournaments is a good start.
If you win game one, except against the decks you know will board the whole package against you (Eldrazi), you can lower your “level of worry” and only sideboard three or four anti-hate cards. The reason behind it is that you are more likely to sideboard wrong with the information you currently have (board in too many cards that aren't necessary), make your deck worse and lose a regular game with no hate involved. When you see that they boarded in six cards and you lose to them in game two, board in more anti-hate cards.
When you lose game one and are in the dark about what they're going to do for game two, up your “level of worry” by boarding four to five cards and adjust for game three if needed.
If you know you'll be facing Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void, replace a Dakmor Salvage with a Hallowed Fountain so you're able to hardcast Ray of Revelation more easily. As for the cards you board out, they should be a mix of Cathartic Reunion, Driven // Despair (especially on the draw), Golgari Thug and Insolent Neonate.
As for the matchups you board Failure to Comply against:
This is a solid plan against Scapeshift that gives you a better chance in the matchup, though this is still not a match you want to face. They have different ways to win so you'll have to call the right card at the right time, which can be tricky.
|Rest in Peace||
In Birmingham, I played only one Scapeshift deck, and Simon Nielsen was piloting it. Ironically enough, he was one of the players I played on Magic Online and he knew about my tech. In game three of our match that you can catch on the coverage (starts at min 50), Simon is down to one card that I strongly suspect is a Scapeshift. I had played a Despair and he discarded two Primeval Titan in the process. We're down to the last turn, and I need to mill one Failure to Comply to keep him from playing his Scapeshift. As I was looting/dredging away my first ten cards, Simon held to his seat not to see the Blue-White aftermath card. I failed to hit one and lost that match.
+3 Failure // Comply
+1 Hallowed Fountain
+2 Ancient Grudges
+2 Ray of Revelation
+2 Abrupt Decay
-1 Dakmor Salvage
-3 Cathartic Reunion
-2 Golgari Thug
-1 Insolent Neonate
-1 Haunted Dead
Ad Nauseam players usually have a pair of Gravedigger's Cage. In that matchup, you'll try to have some pressure on the board while disrupting their combo. Ray of Revelation deals with Phyrexian Unlife and your artifact removal will deal with their Pentad Prism. It will be hard for them to reach six mana thanks to Comply on a Lotus Bloom. Adding a Pact of Negation to the mix to go off makes it more complicated for them to win. When you play Comply on your turn, they can counter it with a Pact and kill you during their upkeep with the Pact trigger on the stack.
For some reason, they like to board in Leyline of Sanctity against you to protect themselves from Conflagrate. You have ways to destroy it ( Ray of Revelation) and you're taking two Conflagrate out anyway.
As for my tournament, I started the GP at 4-3 (1-3 after three byes) and felt the deck underperformed. Then I started a comeback by winning seven in a row, but eventually lost the last rounds to end up at 11-4, enough for two Pro Points but a couple of spots away from money (It's my fourth GP in two seasons where I end up 11-4 and failed to cash…). I beat Goblins, White-Blue Control, Colorless Eldrazi, Affinity, White-Black Death and Taxes, White-Black Smallpox, Jeskai Control, Jund Shadow, and lost to Grixis Shadow, Scapeshift, Colorless Eldrazi and White-Green Eldrazi in the last round.
I didn't get the chance to use my Failure to Comply plan too often (only once actually), but I played every round next to at least one Scapeshift player, a deck that was heavily represented.
Dredge is a very hard deck to play. When everything goes right, it's a walk in the park. When you're looking for a missing piece of the puzzle, that you have to optimize your card count, your life total, the land drops, the timing of the Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam triggers, play around hate cards, it starts to get really complicated. There's too much to say in an article as there are just too many little tricks in very specific situations. I'll try to be streaming some Dredge sometimes next week (or make videos for TCGplayer), to show you what I'm talking about.
Dredge is also a frustrating deck at times – I lost my last round because I couldn't find a dredge card in the top 15 cards in both game one and three – but a powerful strategy that leaves a lot of room for the pilot to outplay his opponents. Sure, you'll lose to hate cards sometimes, but in the end, remember that no one ever packs enough cards against you.
- Raphael Levy
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