Feature Article from William Spaniel

MM #28: Dreading Dredge

William Spaniel


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Excuse me for going back to this one more time, but I had an interesting conversation with Randy “Always Right” Buehler at the Magic Invitational last year. (For those interested in the name change, Randy's old MySpace no longer has the identifiable location of Renton, Washington, so I had to scrap Zero Friends and go somewhere else. Seeing as he's pretty much always right on the PT webcasts, this seemed like a logical place to go. You can always add me on MySpace by going here.) The issue at hand was whether increasing the size of Standard's card pool with Coldsnap could lead to degenerate combos.

“The pressure was on,” he told me. “But as I said before, I have plenty of confidence in the design team. They made sure to not allow anything to sneak through. And while the extra cards do mean that the decks built are slightly faster, that is balanced by the fact that more cards equal more variety. As long as the speed of the format isn't so great that it eliminates this variety, then the more options just mean more fun.”

This was at a time before anyone knew of the craziness Time Spiral would bring. The purple cards further pushed the envelope, and two sets later we are looking at the largest Standard format ever today. Yet right now only Dragonstorm does oddly degenerate things (more on that in a moment), and even that is balanced by the wealth of viable decks outside of that.

Despite that, I am still worried about Dredge. People have done dumb things with it in Extended already, so everyone should have some fear over what Golgari Grave-Troll can flip over in Standard. That said, Future Sight still saw three obviously dominant cards for Dredge in Narcomoeba, Bridge from Below, and Llanowar Mentor while tossing in a couple of quietly powerful cards in Street Wraith and Horizon Canopy.

Of course, I probably didn't need to tell you any of that. (Well, maybe I did for the Horizon Canopy thing, but I'll get to that in a moment.) People have been toying with the Dredge deck for the last couple of weeks, usually going to the green plan of Greenseeker and the Mentor. Today I'm going to take the first steps at making this into a legitimate combo deck instead of some Reanimator heap.

Rogue Deck of the Week
Our rogue deck for this week comes from…wait, what's this? It comes from a guy named William Spaniel? No way! He doesn't play Magic, especially constructed Magic!

Cocker Dredge
3 Bonded Fetch
3 Flame-Kin Zealot
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
2 Golgari Thug
4 Magus of the Bazaar
4 Narcomoeba
4 Street Wraith
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Thought Courier

4 Bridge from Below
4 Dread Return

3 Dakmor Salvage
4 Gemstone Mine
4 Horizon Canopy
9 Island

Side note: I thought long and hard on coming up for a good name for the deck. Then I remembered the TFM's deck naming conventions and went with “Spaniel Dredge.” It was at this moment I realized that my name is no longer Spaniel according to Hack, but rather it is Cocker. Therefore Cocker Dredge. Considering I basically threw this entire thing together by myself in a couple hours last Friday, I suppose I deserve the right to name it something so absurd. End side note.

It looks like a pile, I know. But at its peak, I dealt 91 damage to Dragonstorm on the fourth turn after mulliganing twice. Yeah, it's that explosive.

The game plan is to drop a looter on the second turn and start Dredging immediately. Magus of the Bazaar is the best of the bunch for obvious reasons, but Thought Courier makes do in a pinch. Bonded Fetch, an overlooked card in Future Sight, is better than nothing, though it starts a turn slower than the rest of the guys because you'll do 90% of your looting during your upkeep (which is why you don't want Looter il-Kor). After a couple of turns, you'll have done enough drawing to have most of your library into your graveyard. You should be ready to fire from there.

To go off, all you really need are two Bridge from Belows, one Dread Return, and a Flame-Kin Zealot in your graveyard and three creatures in play (remember, looters and Narcomoebas count). From there, sacrifice three guys to Flashback Dread Return targeting Flame-Kin Zealot. Dread Return goes on the stack, and the two Bridges trigger to put six tokens into play. Then the Return recurs the Zealot to conveniently give you seven 3/3 hasty creatures. Swing, wash your hands of your opponent's blood, and be proud of how your deck doesn't wait around to kill your opponent with slow, silly cards like Akroma and Bogardan Hellkite.

As I alluded to earlier, my favorite moment playing this deck thus far was against Dragonstorm. In game three, I was on the draw and mulliganed to five, which is a very good recipe for a match loss. Well, two of those five cards were Magus of the Bazaar and a couple Gemstone Mines, which is a very good recipe for a match win. I drew into a Golgari Grave-Troll and had a third turn Thought Courier, while my third and fourth lands were Horizon Canopies. When I untapped for my fourth turn, I flipped all but ten cards into my graveyard thanks to the two looters and ridiculousness of the Canopies. Because Cocker Dredge does such stupid things, the process Dredged all four Narcomoebas and Bridge from Belows were Dredged. What this means is that I sacrificed all of my creatures to Dread Return two Flame-Kin Zealots and make 24 zombies. Since I can only Flashback Return one at a time, half of the creatures were 4/4s and the other half were 3/3s, but either way I was swinging for 91 damage. On the fourth turn. Dragonstorm, I'd like to see you do that. (Well, I suppose it can be better. More on that in a moment.)

On the bright side, I doubt it's as broken as I'm making it sound. A number of cards—Yixlid Jailer and Extirpate jump to mind—ruin the combo. Other decks like Dragonstorm and Gruul can race it with varying degrees of success. Also, anyone who is capable of removing one toughness and two toughness looters is in good shape too…except Bonded Fetch still gets off an activation! The sideboard—which tentatively would contain four Krosan Grips, four Trickbinds, four Nightmare Voids, and three other random cards—help out with some of this, though it's hard to manage good hosers when your deck is so strapped for slots as it is. But as Randy Buehler once said, it's okay to print really good cards as long as there are really good answers to all of them. Dredge may just go over as a shining case study for that.

Regardless, have fun tinkering around with it trying to break the format.

Stat of the Week #1
On one website, Flash was a $1 card two Mondays ago. Two days later, it was $3. By Friday, it was $10. Last Monday, $12.50. Leyline of the Void, which many figure to be a maindeck four-of in every non-Flash Legacy deck, goes for $10; even so, they are almost sold out. Protean Hulk is a comparatively cheap $7.50, theoretically because it was more recently printed than Flash and therefore is more readily available.

Meanwhile, here's what Aaron “I Read MM” Forsythe had to say about creating and killing the combo before Grand Prix Columbus:

We will be sticking to the normal Banned & Restricted list update schedule; as a rule, we do not ban cards at other times. You can read Randy Buehler's old article Extended Thoughts for more Insights into the B&R policy and our avoidance of "emergency bans."

For those who aren't aware, Flash was given power-level errata in 2000. We removed that power-level errata, as is our policy, when it was found during the most recent Oracle update. We will not be reissuing errata for the card Flash or any other cards changed during the Future Sight Oracle update.

All the attention paid to the recent functionality change of Flash has caused us to reevaluate how we disseminate such information, however, so we are working on a much more public and visible method of highlighting Oracle and Comprehensive Rules changes going forward.

Although I can see why people want this combo killed before a premier event with pro points on the line, I think Grand Prix Columbus will be fun to watch. Don't get me wrong—I sure as hell wouldn't want to play in it—but there are a lot of burning questions to be answered. How many turn zero wins will there be? Will any of those silly situations I created last week actually happen in real life? Though difficult to judge, will attendance be higher or lower due to Flash shenanigans? Will all of this blow over and go into the history books as more hype than reality?

That last question is an interesting one to explore. As surprising as it may seem, I used to be a half-decent deck designer. Remember the Mind's Desire deck from the 2003 World Championship? Yeah, I was a part of building that. Wait, you don't remember that one? That's because it is the deck that never was.

Story time. In the summer of 2003, Scourge had just been released, and everyone knew Mind's Desire was waiting to be broken in Extended. The World Championships were on the horizon, so the pressure was on to build a deck that would dominate day three of the tournament. I tinkered around with a few different versions before arriving on the Sapphire Medallion/City of Traitors/Ancient Tomb plus Frantic Search/Cloud of Faeries/Snap combination that both generated mana and added to the Storm count.

Here's a copy of the deck:

Mind's Desire, Circa 2003
William Spaniel
4 Cloud of Faeries

4 Brainstorm
4 Accumulated Knowledge
1 Brain Freeze
2 Merchant Scroll
4 Sapphire Medallion
4 Snap
3 Cunning Wish
4 Frantic Search
2 Intuition
1 Deep Analysis
3 Fact or Fiction
4 Mind's Desire

4 Ancient Tomb
4 City of Traitors
12 Island

1 Brain Freeze
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Flash Counter
1 Gush
1 Hoodwink
1 Intuition
4 Mana Short
1 Mediate
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Rewind
1 Submerge
1 Tolarian Winds

Perhaps I should retroactively rename it Cocker Desire, I dunno.

Anyway, in my playtesting, this deck was thoroughly broken, and not just in the kinda broken sense people think about when they say and hear the word “broken” either—I'd say more than 60% of the time, the other guy didn't stand a chance at all. The other 40% of the time, he usually just died regardless.

That being the case, why then isn't Cocker Desire etched into your brain as one of the all-time worst offenders?

Because we went and told everyone about the deck. History likes to repeat itself. Just a couple of weeks ago, Pro Tour Yokohama told a similar story. A few days before the tournament began, word got out that the top eight of a Magic Online premier event was entirely White Weenie. To adjust, players naturally skewed the metagame way against little white men (TFM: Little White Men). The MM Law of Extreme Metagaming states that if everyone is playing to beat you, then beat them by playing something else (unless you are playing Trix or Affinity, in which case you proceed to beat them anyway). Because this is intuitively understood by pros, very few White Weenie decks were at the Pro Tour.

Well, we told everyone about the deck. And I mean everyone. If I recall correctly, we had front page articles on Ciudad for four straight days about the same exact deck plus or minus ten cards. Boy, did we hype it up too. “This deck beats everything!” we'd say, citing that statistic on how we trample our opponents 60% of the time. Since I especially like to upset people with outlandish statements, I even predicted day three (the Extended day) of the World Championship would have been “the worst day of competitive Magic since Rome.”

Truth be told, the reality of the matter was far less grand. A few players, most notably the defending world champion Carlos Romao, ran Mind's Desire, but the players with the old school Extended decks far outnumbered and outperformed the Desire crew. It was Yokohama four years early. We ran our mouths about how great Mind's Desire was; our Opposition put Pyrostatic Pillars in their sideboard and laughed. Worse, a good portion of what Mind's Desire had going for it was that everyone was completely oblivious as to what was going on before it was too late to stop it. If we had kept quiet and only told a few pros about the deck, I'm confident Mind's Desire would have bashed skulls open.

With that in mind, here are some lessons to be learned and things to watch for at Grand Prix Columbus:

1) If the designers of the stupid Flash deck only kept quiet about it until the Grand Prix had started, I am pretty confident they would have all top eighted the tournament without much thinking whatsoever. Now, I figure they will be in a crowded pool of many who will be playing solitaire games to see who can go off first.

2) Where is Flash on the metagame fluctuation scheme? Is it at the Block White Weenie/Mind's Desire spot, where people playing hate keep everyone else from running the deck to beat (TFM: The Deck to Beat)? Will it go past that where the majority of players figure no one will play Hulk Flash because everyone is gunning for it? If that's the case, will people remove their hate, allowing a Flash deck to take the crown easily? (Interesting historical note: the most famous example of this was Affinity at Pro Tour Columbus, the same city the Grand Prix in question will be at.)

3) Can we throw #2 out the window because Hulk Flash is like Trix and Affinity in that it wins no matter how much hate you throw at it?

4) Will Wizards ever ban something on a day that isn't the first of the month and isn't in a month divisible by three?

5) When they finally do get around to taking care of business, what card will they ban? Will they just go back to the old errata for Flash? Or will the metagame at Grand Prix Columbus be diverse enough to facilitate no change on June 1?

Bonus Question: Why did Monday's Legacy article on Ciudad contain a grand total of zero mentions of the world “Flash”?

All of that makes me excited for a Grand Prix for likely the first time ever. So, in spite of Wizards screwing up with the errata for Flash, congratulations are in order as well!

Full Disclosure Note
I usually show Jeff and Scott (two of MM's four readers, with the other two being my mother and Mr. each week's article in advance to get their feedback. As I write this, the two of them are both hounding me on instant messengers not to reveal the Cocker Dredge tech. Worse, I made their own point for them—keep the deck a secret, no one will go to far lengths to hate it out, and you will have a (theoretically) easy path to victory. However, I don't really have anything to win because I unfortunately won't be going to Regionals this year; if I had, then I might have kept the deck a secret. Even then I really don't think it's the type of deck I'd want to bring to a tournament anyway because I don't want to lose to that random guy with Extirpate, so I guess I'm subconsciously trying to force Jeff and Scott to not bring it to Regionals as well. Or I'm just a bad teammate and a worse friend.

Stat of the Week #2
Tiago Chan, who finished in 21st place at Grand Prix Stockholm, has zero Grand Prix top eights in his career despite reaching level six of the players' club.

GP Stockholm Analysis
Speaking of the Grand Prix, perhaps we should have a word about it. The MM Law of Picking Winners states the player with the longest or most complicated name to pronounce is most likely to win. Despite any reservations some people have against it, the law has proven successful in the last two premier events leading up to Stockholm thanks to Steve OMGs and Guillaume “Bonnes Fleurs” Wafo-Tapa.

However, Stockholm asked the question: what happens if no one player has a significantly more complicated name than his or her competitors? In this respect, Samuel Korsell, Oliver Oks, Nicolay Potovin, Bas Postema, Klaus Joens, Kenji Tsumura, Andre Mueller, and Thomas Refsdal were pretty much a push, meaning I had no idea who would win after the top eight of Grand Prix Stockholm was announced. As such, I have created a corollary to the rule:

If no one player has a significantly longer or more complicated name than his or her opponents, then the Russian is most likely to win.

And congratulations to Russia, as Nicolay Potovin became the first Russian to win a premier event, an impressive feat considering Wizards translated Magic into Russian not long ago.

We Win, We Suck
Meanwhile, Bonnes Fleurs (look it up) has continued a rather odd streak: in their first Grand Prix following their win, each of our Pro Tour winners this year have failed to make it to day two. First Mike Hron took Geneva but failed to build his PT Player of the Year lead in Dallas, and now Bonnes Fleurs only mustered a single match win last weekend. Perhaps this is due to the fact Hron is a limited specialist and Dallas was Extended, while Fleurs is a constructed specialist and Stockholm was limited….

Future Sight Draft Simulator Update
Last week, I noted that the public was underrating Riddle of Lightning and Flowstone Embrace on our very own draft simulator. This week, both cards moved up by .1 of a pick order. With Quentin Martin saying “Riddle of Lightning heads red's removal front” and Jonathan Loucks putting Riddle and Embrace as the fourth and fifth best red commons in the set (compared to the public consensus of seventh and eighth), we'll keep an eye out to see if any of this changes.

While we're on the subject of changes, Sprout Swarm has also had quite the weekend. Swarm got absolutely no respect in the first round of drafting, with a pick rank of a decidedly average 5.14. This week, it improved slightly—to 5.11—but a lot of players are still underestimating this card. At Grand Prix Stockholm, Olivier “Ask the Pro How to Cheat” Ruel, Kenji Tsumura, and Ruud Warmenhoven all put Sprout Swarm as the first or second best common in the set. (Tellingly, Tsumura proclaimed “Green is the best!” despite how it is the least popular color on the draft simulator.) Again, we'll watch for a spike next week in its popularity.

As a final note, I think Jonathan Louck's article best summarized the peculiar reality of drafting Future Sight—Gathan Raiders is every color! Loucks went so far as to do his color-by-color rankings by including Raiders on every list. Yes, that means everyone's favorite manaless morph was on the white, blue, black, and green pick orders. So next time someone tells you that Gathan Raiders is the best white common in the set, don't give them a strange look.

Dumb, Semi-Playable Combo Deck of the Week
Not to alarm anybody, but two Cloud Keys and Grinning Ignus generates infinite mana. (A sole Cloud Key is good enough for infinite Storm copies.) Good luck with that one.

Rumor Control: The PB&J Sandwich
Exactly half a Magic Musings lifetime ago, I discussed the plausibility of the Lorwyn block having a fourth set. Given a few months to reflect on it, I think it is likely. On one hand, it allows Wizards to have a fourth set overall released in the calendar year of 2008. Astute readers will note Magic has had four sets ever year since 2003 (regular blocks, plus Eighth Edition, Unhinged, Ninth Edition, Coldsnap, and Tenth Edition for 2007), and I doubt corporate bigwigs at Hasbro will want that to change in 2008.

However, even failing that, producing the fourth set of the block in September puts the Magic World Championship back in sync with Standard's rotation. It made sense for Wizards to sync up the calendar year with the Pro Tour season a few years ago, but doing so sent the Standard format at Worlds all out of whack. Before that, the final set of a block was released just in time for the tournament, giving Standard the final culmination of the year it deserves. Now, we awkwardly have only the first set of the next block. As such, while I am slightly concerned by how this will yet again inflate Standard's card pool, I suspect it will happen one way or the other.

This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
No more than three weeks ago, Magic Musings led off the article with an anti-Dragonstorm rant. A premier event this week on Magic Online showed why. For maximum effect, take a look at these screen caps following the end of every turn:

Rosarch's First Turn

Topdeck_cn's First Turn

Hooray Standard! Keep in mind all of that will be legal in Standard by the time Regionals come around in less than a month. While not nearly as bad as Hulk Flash (I mean, this deck can win on turn one…you know how slow that is?), it does make you think.

The Mike Flores, English Language Watch
From his article In the Future:

Unnecessary Capitalization
Constructed x10
Tier Two
Limited x2
Wall(s) x2
Top 8 x2
Red Decks

Besides having ten separate instances of “constructed” being unnecessarily capitalized, In the Future is notable because I actually found myself slightly enjoying The Flower Man's work. His premise was to repeatedly do the now incredibly cliché though still fun “in the future…x will happen.” I thought it might be a worthwhile endeavor for me to try it out:

In the future, TFM will take (and pass) English 101.

In the future, Magic will be back on television.

In the future, Mr. Entitlement will respect people, including those who are “pint-sized Vietnamese crusaders.”

In the future, MM will write a respectable article for the first time ever.

In the future, Fall Out Boy's song titles will make sense.

In the future, Big Words will have perfect pronunciation. (Love ya, Evan.)

In the future, MM will find a suitable girl to finally test the MM Theory of 2HG and Breasts.

In the future, even Hack will be referring to decks with the prefix of “Cocker.”

In the future, Ask the Pro How to Cheat will formally address his transgressions.

In the future, a Flash/White Weenie matchup will take place in Legacy.

In the future, more than one conservative group will call Wizards to complain about the sexual undertones of the Flash/White Weenie matchup.

In the future, MM will square off against Ted Knutson at UFC 95.

In the future, Ted Knutson will write an article about what it's like to cage fight while high on marijuana. (No Patrick Chapin jokes here, please.)

In the future, Magic Online III will be released.

Okay, the last one might be a bit of a stretch, but that was still fun to do.

Send Us Feedback!
Have a comment about one of the topics? Do you know the answer to a question that I posed but did not know the answer to? Or would you care to just rant away at me? Write to me at williamspaniel@gmail.com, and don't forget to include your name and location. Say something intelligent and you may just find yourself in next week's column!

Next Week
Magic Musings gets a thousand emails from irate detractors over the last section alone, yet none of them will actually refute the arguments at hand.