If you have been following any of my work since Theros was originally released, you have probably encountered my campaign for the BG Dredge deck in Standard. I have been playing the list on and off for the past six months, trying to pick spots where the metagame allows the deck to truly shine. If recent trends in Standard continue, that time might be right now, especially with Grand Prix Cincinnati coming up.
The actual list itself has begun to be adopted by all sorts of players and as a result, the range for what you can do with the deck has expanded. This is important because outside of the core engine, there is wiggle room to skew the deck as you see fit. This makes an exact 75 less important, but I have noticed that many people have questions regarding specific match ups or specific cards, so I wanted to take time to address those today.
I will provide my current list as well, but I want to specifically focus on some of the interesting interactions and lines of play that can lead to this deck being victorious. In general, the list has a lot of game against the various blue control decks just due to its engine and use of the graveyard but for matchups like monoblack or monoblue, having knowledge of the range of your deck is very important in order to sculpt a game plan to win.
Just to give you guys an idea of what we are working with here, BG Dredge has shown up a few times recently after some success. I noticed the deck 4-0ing a few different Standard Daily events on Magic Online and then, this past weekend, Matias Chilperico piloted the list to a Top 16 finish in Grand Prix Buenos Aires. Check out the lists here.
These lists obviously differ in some small ways, but they are very close nevertheless. This is actually just a facet of the archetype. Many of your cards are locks to be included. For example, you need a certain threshold of enablers (Commune with the Gods, Grisly Salvage, Satyr Wayfinder). This means the wiggle room on them is very small as you need about 10 as a bottom ceiling and there are no more of this effect, meaning 12 is your max count. That gives you a little control as a deck builder, but you are still locking up a fifth or sixth of your deck without further input. Even going further than that, I think the deck has critical needs in the mana creature and finisher department as well so while you can switch around options in those areas, you cannot really afford to just cut every mana elf in the deck and still have a viable 60. I should know as I have tried doing just that before.
As I mentioned earlier though, I wanted to go over a few key things to look for or do with the deck that people often miss or have questions about. Here is a good starting point for mastering the deck. Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord plus Deathrite Shaman
Even though this deck has increased its land count by one or more since I first began testing the deck, in mid to late game situations you will occasionally find yourself short a mana for some play with a Deathrite Shaman in play and no lands to feed to it. In these spots, it is important to remember that activating Jarad's return ability will get two lands into your yard, giving you access to that mana. This is especially good in situations where you are paying seven mana to cast that Jarad and throw something at the opponent for lethal. Opening Hands
Opening hands can be a little tricky to nail down with this list because its range is quite skewed. Heavy land hands are significantly worse than light land hands. Two to three lands is your sweet spot but there are certainly many one-landers that you will keep on the basis of having an Elvish Mystic and some two-drop that finds or produces mana.
Generally, a really good hand consists of some mana acceleration with a one-drop being especially nice. In addition, you usually want one to two enablers that can fill your graveyard. At the top end we want one or two things that benefit from our enablers, like Nighthowler or Nemesis of Mortals. Add two land and we are good to go.
Keeping hands without finishers is more forgivable than missing other pieces due to the ability of enablers to also dig for these finishers. For example, it will sometimes be just better to have two lands, two mana creatures, and three enablers as that hand is going to be sculpted into something good and when you draw the good cards, they are already at their prime thanks to all the trashed cards we went through to get there. Know your Bestow
If you do not play a lot of Theros limited, you might not be as familiar with bestow as you ought to be before playing this deck. This deck utilizes seven very high powered bestow creatures and it is important to know what you can and cannot do with them. A big one, for example, is that if a creature has been bestowing something more than the first turn it was played, it will have effective haste should the creature it is enchanting die. This will come up against Kiora quite a bit. Often you will have one big guy, like a Satyr Wayfinder wearing a Nighthowler and they will activate Kiora, preventing all damage the Satyr would deal. You can make a play such as Shadowborn Demon targeting your own Satyr (or Jarad to sacrifice it if you have the mana) which will free up the Nighthowler that can attack the Kiora free of any prevention shields on it. Maximize Mana Early
Often, the early turns with this deck are the trickiest. You generally have a lot of options over the first few turns and sequencing incorrectly can put you too far behind to recover. While each individual situation is going to require you to make the Final Judgment call, one big tip is to simply maximize the amount of mana you produce. This is a broad statement that leads to specific plays.
Should you play Deathrite Shaman or Elvish Mystic on turn one? Well, one of these plays results in two mana at the start of your turn while the other results in only one. If you have a Commune or Salvage in your hand, your Deathrite could make a mana this turn, but why take the risk? Mystic allows you to play the enabler and Deathrite on the following turn for sure. And if your enabler misses lands but you snag another Mystic, now you can cast that instead!
If you are going to miss a land drop for the turn and you have a choice between casting Commune with the Gods or Grisly Salvage, you should cast the Salvage and do it main phase. Progressing with your mana is key because of how our deck is built around maximizing a small amount of it. Cast a Satyr over a Commune in this spot as well. If you are flooded, clearly all of this changes, but that does not happen all that often in this list. My Current List
Alright, I promised you guys an updated list. To be honest, it is not all that different from the shells put forth by the two players above, but it does have a few interesting things about it:
I have not really tested Mistcutter Hydra to the extent that I probably should, so it is possible that that is just a better replacement than Skylasher, but I will be testing that this week to find out for sure. Haste has some surprise value, but whenever you get to pick off a Tidebinder Mage, Master of Waves, or even Judge's Familiar against Monoblue, you have such a huge edge. Both wear suits equally well, although it is true that Skylasher is worse if people continue to play Rapid Hybridization, so that is definitely worth considering.
I am also not sold on the second Whip. The first has a huge impact and I had one copy of Gift of Orzhova to supplement that against the aggressive red decks, but it just seemed like the second copy of Whip was going to be a better draw in that matchup specifically.
Additionally, while I am not certain on 11 enablers being the exact right number, I am sure that if you are going to shave one of the 12, it should be Commune. Our deck is quite happy to just draw lands with its enablers and Commune does not allow that. I have been liking the feel of the deck with 11 copies in the 75, but could see arguments for the 12th. I mostly do not think you can play the 12th and still run any instant speed removal, which has been pretty good for me thus far.
Gyre Sage is a new addition that I have been toying with. The idea was that he was another mana creature that was also a threat. He has tested relatively well so far, although I am still unsure if he has had a bigger impact than something like the 3rd Deathrite Shaman would.
The Ultimate Prices were borrowed from Matias actually. I had been testing Hero's Downfall and Thoughtseize in that slot with Ultimate Price in the sideboard, but it just made sense to have the more efficient and easily castable card in the main deck. I have liked it thus far. Sideboard Improvements
The thing I need to focus most on is my sideboard though. In an ideal world where I could run, say 25 cards in my sideboard, this is what it would look like:
3 Golgari Charm 3 Lifebane Zombie 2 Mistcutter Hydra 3 Skylasher 1 Ultimate Price 1 Hero's Downfall 2 Shadowborn Demon 4 Thoughtseize 1 Whip of Erebos 2 Nylea's Disciple 2 Gift of Orzhova 1 Lotleth Troll
Finding a way to shave that down to 15 has been proving difficult though. I think I am going to experiment around with a few configurations this week, but will likely be starting here:3 Golgari Charm 2 Thoughtseize 1 Hero's Downfall 2 Shadowborn Demon 3 Lifebane Zombie 1 Whip of Erebos 3 Mistcutter Hydra
That is very similar to where I am now, but I want to test out how strong the Hydras are without tainting too much of what I have going on here. The next highest priority for me is probably the third Thoughtseize or the last Lotleth Troll as you can never have too many weapons against Monoblack Devotion, even if it is a little less popular than it used to be. Hero's Downfall is supposed to be a slight hedge over the third Thoughtseize by providing an answer for control's threats as well as Demons and Pack Rats alike. Wrap Up
Grand Prix Cincinnati is just a few days away and I am not quite sure if I will be playing this, or something a little more conservative. When you are in the hunt for pro points, there is a lot of pressure to just sleeve up Monoblack and hope to Top 32. I have been having fun brewing though, so we will see. Thanks for reading!!