THE DECK CHOICE
After playing Dredge almost exclusively for about a year and a half, I started a project this year to try and find another Modern deck that I liked to play. During the first few months of the year Dredge was in a particularly bad position in the metagame, so I wanted to expand my range. After Dan Ward’s GP win and Butakov’s MOCS win, Bogles were everywhere, and I really didn’t want to be on the Dredge side of that matchup. Not that I wanted to be on the other side either, as I found Bogles to be one of the most boring decks I’ve ever laid my hands on.
I tried a lot of different decks, but they all had their own problems. Tron, for example, has been one of the best performing decks over the past year, so I decided to give it a chance. While slamming turn 3 《Karn, Scion of Urza》 was fun and all, there were simply too many situations like this:
The deck is fine, and I don’t blame anyone for playing it, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for. The games are often very one-sided – either you get a quick Tron and smash your opponent with the boom-booms, or you die without ever casting a relevant spell. Exactly the thing that so many people dislike about Modern in general.
Out of the decks I tried, there were two that I did like: Mardu Pyromancer and Hollow One. It’s probably not a coincidence that both of those decks play 《Faithless Looting》. The games with Mardu tend to be fun, interactive and long, but it has one huge flaw: the Tron matchup is simply atrocious. Mardu has neither relevant disruption nor a fast-enough clock, so most of the time Tron just gets do to its thing.
Hollow One, on the other hand, felt a lot like Dredge. They have a lot of the same good and bad matchups, with the notable exception of Hollow One being much better against Tron. Dredge just seems significantly more favoured in the good matchups.
As long as the Modern metagame is a little bit of everything instead of Tron being very popular, I feel like Dredge is a slightly better choice overall. Hollow One is also supposed to be better against graveyard hate, but I think that’s kind of misleading. Sure, it can win even if a 《Leyline of the Void》 or a 《Rest in Peace》 stays in play, while Dredge can’t. But A) Dredge can actually get rid of those cards and B) the matchups where your opponents have those cards are overall better for Dredge.
The last deck I considered was 《Krark-Clan Ironworks》 combo (KCI). It had one of the most dominating performances in Modern’s history at GP Las Vegas, considering how few players actually played the deck. Matt Nass grabbed his second trophy in a row, Eli Kassis also made the top 8 and a couple other well-known pilots were just outside the cut. I played the deck for a bit and found it to be very powerful, but ultimately didn’t have enough time to practice with it. Game 1s seemed quite straight-forward, but I didn’t think I could master sideboarding and playing against hate cards in the short time available. It’s a fun deck though, so I will definitely continue testing it for upcoming events.
A bit before the GP I also got excited about Dredge again. The online lists had started playing 《Shriekhorn》 and 《Damping Sphere》, both of which I was eager to try out. I had tinkered with 《Shriekhorn》 back in the days when 《Golgari Grave-Troll》 was still legal and dismissed it as worse than 《Insolent Neonate》. When I saw it being played again, I immediately realized that things had changed. Nowadays 《Shriekhorn》 is almost a strict upgrade. If you compare turn 1 《Neonate》 to turn 1 《Shriekhorn》, both mill about four cards before your first draw step, but 《Shriekhorn》 also gives you an additional mill 2 after that! It also allows you to keep some hands that don’t have a Dredge card yet. For example:
《Damping Sphere》 I wasn’t as enthusiastic about. I tried it first as a two-of, then as a one-of, and on the evening before the GP I cut the last one as well. As I have said earlier, I have a strong preference for sideboard cards that can either be found by Dredging (《Ancient Grudge》) or that somehow advance your own game plan while disrupting the opponent (《Lightning Axe》). The only cards in my sideboard that don’t match the description are 《Nature's Claim》 and 《Abrupt Decay》, which I consider to be necessary evils.
The straw that broke the camels back was that I found my opponents to be bringing in 《Nature's Claim》 in the dark anyway. Thus, I figured it would be better to just focus on having a fast clock with 《Grudge》 backup against KCI and spend the last sideboard slot for something else. I ended up adding a second 《Ghost Quarter》, which I’m not totally sure about. Tron is one of the matchups I’m most worried about, so I thought I’d switch the 《Sphere》 for another card that was good against that deck specifically.
Going forward, I think I want a 4th 《Ancient Grudge》 instead. KCI can often go off through one 《Grudge》, but the second one is much harder to beat, so it’s important to be able to dredge into multiples. And while 《Ghost Quarter》 is certainly better against Tron, 《Grudge》 helps a bit there as well. It’s also possible that I should give the 《Sphere》 another try, as many others seem to like them.
This is the list played in the GP Barcelona:
2 《Blood Crypt》
2 《Stomping Ground》
2 《Arid Mesa》
2 《Bloodstained Mire》
2 《Wooded Foothills》
4 《Copperline Gorge》
1 《Blackcleave Cliffs》
1 《Gemstone Mine》
1 《Dakmor Salvage》
1 《Ghost Quarter》
-Land (20)- 4 《Narcomoeba》
3 《Golgari Thug》
4 《Stinkweed Imp》
4 《Prized Amalgam》
4 《Cathartic Reunion》
4 《Life from the Loam》
2 《Tormenting Voice》
Some stories from the tournament itself:
In one of the matches I had a good start on the play and my opponent conceded after drawing a card for his second turn to conceal information. He had kept a seven card hand and the only card he played was a 《Bloodstained Mire》. What could he be playing and how should I sideboard? The most common decks playing 《Bloodstained Mire》 are Hollow One, Mardu and Grixis Death’s Shadow, so I hedged and boarded in both 《Lightning Axe》s and 《Nature's Claim》s. 《Lightning Axe》s are good against Death’s Shadow and Hollow One, but bad against Mardu. 《Nature's Claim》s, on the other hand, are necessary against Hollow One and Mardu, but terrible against Death’s Shadow. However, I should’ve asked myself about the range of possible hands that my opponent could have kept.
See, both Hollow One and Grixis Shadow have very few keepable seven card hands that would concede in that spot. How many hands do you think Hollow One has where they cast nothing on turn 1 and don’t have a 《Goblin Lore》 or a slow-rolled 《Faithless Looting》 on turn 2? They should at least cast those to see if they can put multiple 《Hollow One》s into play on that turn. And for Death’s Shadow, my early creatures could definitely be raced by theirs. A 《Death's Shadow》 into 《Temur Battle Rage》 can simply pull off a kill out of nowhere, and a huge portion of their cards cost 1, so the chances of them not casting anything are just really really low.
In contrast, Mardu has a much wider range of realistic keeps where they can be like 99,99% dead on the second turn. A combination of 《Fatal Push》, 《Lightning Bolt》, 《Young Pyromancer》, 《Lingering Souls》, 《Terminate》, 《Kolaghan's Command》 and 《Blood Moon》 can definitely make a hand keep-worthy, but they don’t do much against a good curve-out from Dredge. With those cards Mardu can easily be in a spot where they can’t even topdeck their way out of the situation, unlike the other two decks. Thus the odds of them playing Mardu were a lot higher than them playing either of the other two, so I don’t think I should’ve brought in the 《Lightning Axe》s.
My losses in the tournament were to Affinity and KCI. Both matches came down to not Dredging into enough 《Ancient Grudge》s. Affinity is not very popular at the moment, but if KCI continues to rise I would definitely want to have the 4th 《Ancient Grudge》 in the sideboard.
For a long time, I played 《Tectonic Edge》 in the main deck and 《Ghost Quarter》 in the sideboard. Right before the tournament I switched the 《Ghost Quarter》 to the main deck to be better able to combat Tron decks. I got rewarded not only by being able to 《Quarter》-lock a Tron player in a game 1, but also by doing the same against a Humans opponent. That one hadn’t happened before. He was stuck on two lands without an 《AEther Vial》 or a 《Noble Hierarch》, and I managed to get the board stalled enough to 《Quarter》 him out of lands.
After that match we got deck checked, and I got a game loss for presenting the deck with a 《Tectonic Edge》 in the main deck and both 《Ghost Quarter》s in the sideboard. Oops! I don’t really know how that was possible, as I hadn’t even boarded the 《Tectonic Edge》 in. I guess switching the 《Edge》 for a 《Quarter》 right before the tournament cost me, and I somehow put the 《Edge》 in the deck without thinking about it at all when de-sideboarding.
As far as I can remember, I have only gotten two game losses in my years of playing at GPs. Funnily enough, I have top 8’d both of those tournaments! I guess GL is short for both Game Loss and Good Luck. Maybe I should try to get more of them in the future…
I had an unusual match against Grixis Control where I declined to put my 《Narcomoeba》s and 《Bloodghast》s into play for multiple turns. It’s good to remember that both of those are “may” abilities. My opponent had a 《Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet》 in play, so I wanted my guys to stay in the graveyard. I didn’t want my 《Prized Amalgam》s to get exiled, and I certainly didn’t want the 《Kalitas》 to get out of 《Conflagrate》 range. Thus, I focused on controlling his mana with 《Life from the Loam》 and 《Tectonic Edge》 and finding 《Conflagrate》 to get rid of it before bringing the creatures back from the graveyard.
The quarterfinals against Daniel Ballestin’s UW Control were quite anti-climactic. Dredge is a huge favorite in game 1 and Daniel couldn’t find a 《Rest in Peace》 in game 2.
However, the semi-finals against Javier Dominguez were much tighter. I couldn’t find any pressure in the first game and he countered my 《Life from the Loam》 something like seven turns in a row before killing me. Game two was a super long one, as he was able to exile most of my creatures with 《Path to Exile》, 《Celestial Purge》 and 《Settle the Wreckage》, and my 《Conflagrate》s with a 《Surgical Extraction》. I was left down to just a few cards in my deck and couldn’t dredge anymore. At one life he topdecked a 《Baneslayer Angel》, but I was able to attack with just a 《Bloodghast》 and a 《Golgari Thug》, and 《Darkblast》 the one he blocked for the kill. Whew! Game three I had a great draw and beat him quite easily, but in game two Javier certainly gave me a run for my money.
In the finals I faced Louis Deltour with KCI. I tried to suggest a prize split but he declined. Ha! He jinxed himself. To be fair, I wouldn’t have agreed to the split either if I was him, as he was on the play in a favourable matchup.
In game 1, he couldn’t find an 《Krark-Clan Ironworks》 and I killed him on my fourth turn. In game 2, I had an interesting decision on my second turn. He had a strong start with a 《Mox Opal》 and something like a 《Chromatic Star》 and an 《Ichor Wellspring》, and my hand had 《Ancient Grudge》, 《Cathartic Reunion》, two 《Stinkweed Imp》s, and two more lands. Should I cast the 《Grudge》 or the 《Reunion》?
If I cast 《Cathartic Reunion》, I have a faster clock but also a high chance of straight up losing to a turn three 《Ironworks》. But if I take the risk now, I can probably untap with some creatures in play and hold up double 《Grudge》 for the remainder of the game, with the possibility of dredging into another copy. Going off through two 《Grudge》s in the same turn is much harder than going off through just one. If I take this line and get to untap, I think I’m very likely to win.
If I cast the 《Grudge》 on the 《Mox》, he still has a chance to go off on his third turn, but it’s much less likely as he needs a second 《Mox Opal》 to do that. Spending a 《Grudge》 on a 《Mox》 is also kind of a waste, as I then run the risk of not having enough 《Grudge》s for 《Ironworks》. But if I survive through that turn, I have the flashback 《Grudge》 available for his first 《Ironworks》 on my third turn, and a good chance of dredging into a second 《Grudge》 by the fourth turn. Killing the 《Mox》 also opens up the possibility of him being stuck on mana and not being able to cast 《Ironworks》 in the first place, which is particularly valuable if his hand includes multiple 《Ironworks》.
Another option is to just pass and hold up the 《Grudge》. The problem with this line is that it’s super transparent that I have it, so he won’t expose an 《Ironworks》 unless he knows he can beat a 《Grudge》. He can develop his board and hand, and I have to spend the 《Grudge》 on something anyway at the end of his turn. This option is better if he has a second 《Mox》 and an 《Ironworks》, though.
I ended up 《Grudge》ing the 《Mox》 immediately, but I don’t know if it was correct. If the dredge cards in my hand had been 《Life from the Loam》s instead of 《Stinkweed Imp》s, I would have been more inclined to cast the 《Reunion》 that turn, as finding a second 《Grudge》 would have been harder. With double 《Stinkweed Imp》 though, I thought that the odds of finding another 《Grudge》 are good enough that I can spend one on the 《Mox》. Also, with double Imp it’s easy to dredge into a reasonable clock on the next turn, especially when I can play a land after the 《Reunion》. With double 《Loam》 things would be different, as I would probably need more dredges to develop a good board. As to whether it’s better to cast the 《Grudge》 immediately or on his turn, I don’t know. If you have an opinion on which play was right, I would be curious to hear about it in the comments section.
Anyway, I ended up finding a second 《Grudge》 and destroyed the first two copies of 《Ironworks》. Then I started counting my cards and realized that hey, 《Conflagrate》 into a hasty 《Bloodghast》 is lethal, isn’t it? It felt quite absurd and I was afraid that I was missing something. I don’t usually get nervous, but I was tired, hungry and had already made other sloppy mistakes during the day (among others, the game loss from 《Tectonic Edge》). When Louis extended his hand, I was both stunned and relieved. I couldn’t quite believe it. I had just won the whole GP!
It was made even sweeter by the fact that I’m the first Finnish player ever to do so. Thus, it wasn’t just a big deal for me, but for our whole country as well. We have a double Pro Tour winner in Tommi Hovi, a World Champion in Antti Malin and a Magic Online World Champion in Anssi Myllymaki, but a Grand Prix title had eluded Finland until this GP. I guess the next item on the list is to grab the World Magic Cup title!
That result also means I’m currently qualified for the next three Pro Tours and will probably be the captain at the WMC as well. If I do well at those I have a decent chance of finally reaching Gold. I just hope that I don’t end up one point short like last season. Wish me luck!
A Finnish player who won WMCQ and top 8’d in 2016 World Magic Cup as Finland representative.
Finished 28th in Pro Tour Aether Revolt, and missed narrowly one point shy of Gold level in 2016-17 season. Joins Hareruya Hopes in 2017-18 season and will play 2017 WMC as a team captain of Finland.