This weekend I finished in the Top 64 of Grand Prix Los Angeles with Dredgevine. I was in contention for Top 8 for most of the weekend, finally getting knocked out in Round 14.
At one point I was interviewed by the coverage team about the deck, and the article (including my decklist) can be found on the website here:
This report will be split into two parts. The first will be a mini-primer on the deck in case you want to pick it up for yourself (which I highly recommend), and the second will be a recap of how my tournament went!
The key card of the deck is Vengevine. The deck’s main goal is to fill its graveyard as fast as possible to find multiple Vengevines and get them into play. The primary way to fill the graveyard is with our Dredge cards, Golgari Grave-Troll and Stinkweed Imp…if you can discard one of those on turn 1, you can start using your draw steps to mill yourself and find the missing pieces. Bloodghast is another way to get value out of milling yourself, as all you need is a single land to get a couple free threats into play, and with the multitude of fetchlands, you can often get multiple triggers in a turn in case they die in combat. Gravecrawler is an additional cheap threat that comes into play from the graveyard…although it requires a Zombie, it can allow you to rebuild a board state out of nowhere if you have multiples in the ‘yard. Prized Amalgam is the newest addition to the deck, and boy is it a good one. It serves as Vengevine #5-8, but it can also be extra copies of Gravecrawler and Bloodghast! It is rare to not be able to get him back into play just by doing the things your deck is already trying to do. Plus, he’s a Zombie, which is just perfect for setting up a big turn with Gravecrawler and Vengevine!
Tying everything together are the discard outlets. Faithless Looting is the most important one, setting up your first turn perfectly and flashing back later in the game when you’re starting to run out of gas. Insolent Neonate is another new addition to the deck that in some ways is worse than Looting, but oftentimes is just way better, because a) it lets you discard before you draw, meaning you can discard a card with dredge and use it immediately, and b) it’s a creature to trigger Vengevine! Lotleth Troll is a mana more expensive, but it’s one of the best outlets. Not only can it let you dump your entire hand, but it gets enormous very quickly and presents a singular threat that your opponent has to deal with in addition to your “swarm” threats. It’s also very important in sideboarded games, since it doesn’t rely on the graveyard to get big and doesn’t care about hate cards. I beat a Leyline of the Void this weekend simply by making a 5-power Lotleth Troll on turn 2 and attacking a few times with it.
My one blue card in the maindeck was Hedron Crab, which might seem like an odd choice for a splash, but it performed superbly throughout the weekend. It essentially sped up the deck by an entire turn…not only does it fill your graveyard at a rapid rate (especially in multiples), it is an extra one-drop creature in a deck trying to trigger Vengevine as soon as possible. The “nut draw” with this deck is turn 1 Faithless Looting to discard a dredger, turn 2 Hedron Crab or Insolent Neonate, fetchland, and another 1-drop to trigger whatever Vengevines, Bloodghasts, and Prized Amalgams might have entered the graveyard that turn. With the large number of 1-drops, this was not an uncommon occurrence, either…I attacked for 12 on turn 2 multiple times throughout the weekend.
A quick note on the manabase: 11 fetchlands, 6 shocks, 2 basics, and one Dakmor Salvage. Bloodstained Mire and Polluted Delta get every shockland but not basic Forest; Verdant Catacombs gets everything except Steam Vents; Wooded Foothills gets everything except Watery Grave and basic Swamp. Every land in the deck taps for black mana except for Steam Vents and Forest…Steam Vents is there to enable fast starts in case you want to start with a red and blue spell on turns 1-2, while Forest is there as a pain-free way to cast green spells post-board in aggressive matchups as well as a target for Path to Exile. There is no Stomping Ground because it doesn’t tap for black mana, which is important in a deck trying to cast multiple Gravecrawlers or Darkblasts in one turn. Dakmor Salvage is a nice one-of because it taps for black mana, but more importantly it guarantees that you’ll hit your land drop late in the game if you need to trigger Bloodghasts on your turn. The one change I would make to the mana moving forward is -1 Wooded Foothills, +1 Polluted Delta.
I was pretty happy with my sideboard. I played Natural State because it’s the cheapest disenchant effect available with the lowest drawback. Golgari Charm/Abrupt Decay are too expensive, and Nature’s Claim gives them life, which is a no-no when you’re trying to beat down. The biggest flaw is that it can’t hit Leyline of the Void, but I didn’t anticipate too much of it in people’s sideboards because the deck is still underrepresented in the metagame. Inquisition of Kozilek got the nod as my discard spell…Thoughtseize is too painful with the current manabase, and Duress can’t hit problem creatures like Scavenging Ooze and Eidolon of the Great Revel. Stitchwing Skaab is my only other blue card, but excels in grindy matchups like Jeskai and Jund…it’s an instant-speed threat that gets around sorcery-speed sweepers, it triggers Prized Amalgam, and it’s a zombie for Gravecrawler purposes. Darkblast excels in matchups where you have to assume a disruptive role to win, like against Infect, Affinity, and Abzan Company. The one change I would probably make to the sideboard is -1 Natural State, +1 Ancient Grudge, since I only ended up bringing in the 3rd Natural State against decks like Affinity, Tron and Lantern Control, where Grudge is just better anyway.
A few random tips and tricks for the deck:
- If you trigger Landfall for Hedron Crab and Bloodghast simultaneously, resolve the Hedron Crab first in case you hit a Prized Amalgam. If that land is a fetchland, wait until the Crab trigger resolves to sacrifice it in case you hit another Bloodghast to trigger off of the land you fetch up. The one exception is if you only have one fetchable land left in your deck and run the risk of milling it…then you might want to respond to the Crab trigger by fetching it.
- Keep in mind that once you start dredging, you won’t be able to hit any more land drops. You can operate on two lands, but usually you’ll want at least three to flashback your Lootings. Sometimes you will want to draw normally for a turn or two in search of a third land instead of dredging.
- When deciding which 1-drop to play first…Faithless Looting is the best to cast on turn 1, because if you manage to mill Vengevine on turn 2, you’ll want to have two creatures turn 2 to trigger it. Neonate is generally a better turn 1 play than Crab because you’ll still get value if your opponent has a Lightning Bolt. If you happen to have three 1-drop creatures in your hand, Neonate can come out before Faithless Looting to get the dredge train rolling sooner.
- Try not to cast your Gravecrawlers until the last possible moment. It might be tempting to run them out and try to beat down, but it usually doesn’t work. Save them for a big Vengevine turn, and sandbag one in your hand in case all your other Zombies die and you need to get a buddy back from the ‘yard. That isn’t to say it won’t ever be correct to do so, but it often isn’t.
- When deciding which fetchland to play: in preboarded games, use your Verdants and Foothills first because they’re more restrictive, but postboard, identify if you will need basic Forest down the line and possibly use your other fetches first.
- If you side in Darkblast, side out at least three other dredgers, because you’ll probably be using your draw step to dredge Darkblast anyway. Identify what kind of matchup it is…if it’s a matchup where you need to block, keep in Stinkweed Imps; if not, keep in Grave-Trolls for the extra dredge.
- If you play a turn-2 Insolent Neonate and plan to dredge with it, do so before playing your land in case you hit a Bloodghast.
- If you side in Stitchwing Skaab, it might behoove you to activate it during your opponent’s second main phase. This is due to the wording on Prized Amalgam, as they come back at “the next end step.” If Skaab enters the battlefield during their end step, you won’t get the Amalgams back until your end step.
Now on to the Grand Prix! I live only half an hour away from the site, so I got a good night’s sleep in my own bed the night before the tournament and arrived with Sleep-in Special after my two byes, ready to do battle.
Round 3: Jeskai Nahiri, W 2-1 – I played against local grinder Sherwin Pu who I knew was a pro-caliber player. The match went basically as expected for the matchup…I won game 1 pretty handily, lost game 2 to his ample interaction, and ran him over again game 3 after snatching a key Anger of the Gods out of his hand with Inquisition of Kozilek.
Round 4: Burn, W 2-1 – I lost the die roll, which is normally game over in this matchup, but I had a very solid hand that got multiple Vengevines into play on turn 2 and was able to race him effectively while leaving up blockers for his creature-heavy draw. From there we split the next two games with the person on the play winning as expected.
Round 5: Jund, W 2-1 – I won Game 1 as my deck tends to do. Game 2 he stabilized behind a Kalitas after Slaughter Pact’ing one of my guys immediately and clogging up the board. In Game 3 my opponent started the game with Leyline of the Void in play, and I was already resigned to losing. But it turns out his hand didn’t have much else going on; he tried to Lightning Bolt my turn-2 Lotleth Troll, and I responded by making it a 5/4, and he just couldn’t deal with it as I simply attacked four times for the win.
Round 6: Jeskai Nahiri, W 2-0 – I had already played this matchup today, and I had plenty of testing under my belt so I knew what I was doing. It played out very similarly to Round 3 and I took the match without too much trouble.
Round 7: Abzan Company, L 1-2 – I finally lost my first Game 1 of the weekend after he played a turn-2 Scavenging Ooze off a Birds of Paradise, leaving mana open for the rest of the game and handily stopping any attempts at progress on my side. Game 2 I wore him down with a flurry of Darkblasts. Game 3 I kept a risky one-land hand with a couple Insolent Neonates to dig through my deck, but the top five cards of my library didn’t yield a second mana source so I got run over.
Round 8: G/R Tron, W 2-1 – I lost another Game 1 after he played a turn-4 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon on the play and I couldn’t present enough hasty threats to pressure his life total. In Game 2 my opponent played a turn-1 Relic of Progenitus, but I didn’t care…I just put a casual 15 power into play on my turn 2 before he untapped. Game 3 his hand was pretty slow with just a Kozilek’s Return for interaction, which I stripped from his hand with IoK and beat him down the fair way with my cheap threats.
Round 9: Esper Gifts, W 2-1 – My opponent seemed pretty new to Modern as he had to read most of my cards. He said that he’d brewed up the decklist himself, which was impressive given that he was sitting at 7-1 in a tough GP field. His deck looked like a pretty normal Esper control deck with counterspells, wraths, and a Gifts/Unburial Rites package. A straightforward matchup for me, although he did steal Game 2 with a Bojuka Bog nuking my graveyard and a follow-up Elesh Norn shutting me out of the game.
8-1 after Day 1! This was the 3rd-straight Grand Prix I’ve started 8-1 in, and while I failed to convert it to a Top 8 in the previous two instances, I was confident this time that I had a deck that could power through on Day 2 and get me to that 13-2 record I coveted.
Round 10: Abzan Company, W 2-1 – My opponent (Josh McClain) was not only a Platinum pro, but probably one of the best Abzan Company players on the planet, and I don’t think the matchup particularly favors me. In Game 1 I won the die roll and mulliganed once, but still ended up with one of my best draws, attacking for 8 on turn 2 and preventing him from getting anything meaningful going. He got me in Game 2 by simply overpowering the board, activating Gavony Township a couple times and making it impossible to attack. Game 3 was a nail-biter; I got Darkblast going early, sniping his key early creatures and slowly building up my board presence and graveyard. I had a tricky turn late in the game that involved upkeep Darkblast, dredge Darkblast, recast Darkblast, Insolent Neonate to rebuy Darkblast, recast Darkblast to finish off a 3-toughness creature, and finally casting a 2nd creature to trigger some Vengevines and lock up the game.
Round 11: Affinity, L 0-2 – This was a soul-crushing loss. I made a horrific misplay in Game 1, where I had onboard lethal and messed up my sequencing to prevent myself from taking the winning line. It involved discarding my last card to Lotleth Troll prior to casting Faithless Looting, which prevented me from keeping a dredged Dakmor Salvage in my hand after the Looting resolved to trigger Bloodghasts for lethal. Game 2 was less interesting as I just died to an Etched Champion with a Plating on it, but I was still upset at myself for such a bad punt. I tried to shake it off as quickly as possible after venting to my friends. I still had four matches to go.
Round 12: Scapeshift, W 2-1 – I got Game 1 on the play in straightforward fashion. In Game 2 my opponent stabilized pretty handily by accelerating into Obstinate Baloth and staying on top of my creatures with removal + Snapcasters until he reached seven lands for the lethal Scapeshift. Game 3 my opponent mulliganed into a four-land, Bolt, Search for Tomorrow hand, then flooded out horribly as I amassed a board state and he could never really interact.
Round 13: Burn, W 2-1 – This match was on camera, but I don’t believe it ever made it on stream because we were the backup match behind two other features. It’s a shame, because we had a great match! I was fortunate to win the die roll and get underneath him one turn before he could burn me out in Game 1. Game 2 was razor-thin; we both got locked under his double-Eidolon for a while, but eventually I had to trade off a Bloodghast for one of them and enable him to cast a burn spell to finish me off. In Game 3 we traded early resources, but I got the dredge engine going and found a Gnaw to the Bone to go up to 31 life and handily take over the match.
After that win, I was 11-2 with two rounds to go. A writer from the coverage team pulled me aside and interviewed me about the deck (link at the top of this report). It felt vindicating to put so much time and effort into tuning the deck and preparing for the event, and have that hard work recognized!
Round 14: Affinity, L 0-2 – This one wasn’t close at all. We both mulliganed Game 1, but he dumped his hand immediately while I was stuck playing clunky 2/1’s and 3/3’s for full price. Game 2 was off to a good start for me, with a Natural State and Darkblast staying on top of things, but he eventually found an Etched Champion and dumped a few counters onto it with Arcbound Ravager to finish me off. It only took 13 minutes for him to knock me out of Top 8 contention, but in a way it felt better than losing a heartbreaking close one. If you’re going to lose, you might as well get destroyed and remove all doubt, right?
Round 15: ID – My opponent and I looked at the standings and did the math. We determined that if we played, one of us would make Top 32 and win $500 while the other person got nothing, whereas we could both draw into Top 64 and make $250 each. We opted to split the cash and take the draw. Thus, I finished the tournament 11-3-1 in 49th place out of 2200+ players, a result I’m proud of even though I came up a bit short of Top 8 again.
Moving forward, maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t have a high-profile finish, because it means the deck can still fly under the radar and dodge the powerful hate cards out of people’s sideboards. If you’re looking for a deck that is competitive, complex, and an absolute blast to play, this is the deck for you. It’s pretty rare for me to feel happy in hindsight with every deckbuilding decision I made for a tournament, but I feel like the deck was perfectly constructed and I would strongly recommend picking up my 75 and trying it out for yourself. Happy dredging!