Vintage Decksmashing #4 – Dredge vs. Four-Color Control

Hi, and welcome back to Vintage Decksmashing, where we take two Vintage Magic the Gathering decks and smash them together. We’ll analyze the matchup and look at how things should play out, including the most important cards, winning strategies, and how to sideboard. Along the way, you can learn about the great format of Vintage. Maybe we’ll dispel some of the myths that surround Vintage. You’ll see that Vintage is interactive and skill intensive, testing skills that go beyond those practiced in Standard, Modern, and even Legacy.

If you’re interested in getting into Vintage, feel free to proxy decks to test against friends. You might even be able to play them in a nearby proxy tournament. Visit www.themanadrain.com for tournament information as well as other Vintage resources.

Dredge is one of the notorious villains of the Vintage format. Like its analogue in Legacy, Dredge is an effective deck that subverts the traditional Magic the Gathering structure by using Ravnica’s dredge mechanic to win games without the need to make mana, resolve spells, or keep cards in hand. However, it’s also a very linear deck, relying so much on the graveyard that a well-prepared opponent should be able to break up the combo and force Dredge to either deal with the hate cards or start casting creatures for beatdown.

“Well-prepared” is difficult to judge. When Dredge is doing well and is popular, facing it multiple rounds in a tournament might mean needing 10 or more dedicated anti-graveyard cards in the board: [card]Leyline of the Void[/card], [card]Rest in Peace[/card], [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card], Yxlid Jailer, [card]Ravenous Trap[/card], [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card], and so on. As Dredge gets dominated by prepared opponents, it decreases in popularity and opponents remove answers for it, until the deck can rise once again in an unprepared field. It’s a cyclical process similar for many powerful linear decks.

This week, Eric Caffrey and Nat Moes will play Dredge against a deck that’s well prepared, Kevin Cron’s Four-Color Control list from the top eight of the 2013 Vintage Championship. Eric’s list is a fairly standard one that uses [card]Fatestitcher[/card]s and [card]Sun Titan[/card] for a little more combo oomph. Though [card]Bazaar of Baghdad[/card] and the dredge mechanic were printed more than a decade apart, it’s as though they were made for each other. If you’ve enjoyed Dredge in other formats with other enablers, you should seriously proxy up the Vintage version and give it a shot; I think you’ll be impressed.

[deck title=Dredge]
[Lands]
4 City of Brass
4 Undiscovered Paradise
2 Cephalid Coliseum
2 Gemstone Mine
1 Riftstone Portal
1 Dakmor Salvage
4 Bazaar of Baghdad
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Bloodghast
4 Narcomoeba
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Stinkweed Imp
3 Golgari Thug
3 Ichorid
1 Sun Titan
3 Fatestitcher
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
4 Cabal Therapy
3 Dread Return
4 Serum Powder
4 Bridge from Below
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
2 Firestorm
1 Darkblast
4 Ingot Chewer
4 Chain of Vapor
4 Nature’s Claim
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Vintage Dredge decks are built around getting [card]Bazaar of Baghdad[/card] into play and using it as the very powerful motor of your dredge engine. To that end, and because Bazaar is so important, the deck starts off using [card]Serum Powder[/card] and mulliganning aggressively (as far as you have to, down to one card) for the Arabian Nights land. With Bazaar in play, you can dredge aggressively to fill you graveyard with synergistic, free creatures like [card]Bloodghast[/card] and [card]Narcomoeba[/card], disruptive Cabal Therapies, and your game winners: [card]Dread Return[/card], [card]Sun Titan[/card], and [card]Flame-Kin Zealot[/card].

This is the normal plan, with which most decks can’t really interact. MUD and other Workshop decks might prevent you from being able to cast a finishing [card]Dread Return[/card], but everyone else is going to race you or die trying. And if your game winners are disrupted somehow, you still have a very serviceable backup plan in your creatures, also including Ichorid and [card]Bridge from Below[/card] tokens.

Postboard games against Dredge are where the action is. That’s when opponents bring in the hate and Dredge plays the guessing game of how many and what kind of cards you’re going to have to answer. Eric’s list can answer the most common problems: creatures, artifacts, and enchantments. This is good because he’ll be facing all of them.

Nat played the Four-Color Control list Kevin Cron piloted to the top four of last year’s Vintage Championships.

[deck title=Four-Color Control]
[Lands]
3 City of Brass
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Misty Rainforest
2 Underground Sea
2 Volcanic Island
1 Tropical Island
1 Island
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Strip Mine
1 Wasteland
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
3 Deathrite Shaman
1 Snapcaster Mage
1 Blightsteel Colossus
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Time Vault
1 Voltaic Key
1 Tinker
1 Time Walk
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Brainstorm
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Toxic Deluge
2 Lightning Bolt
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Black Lotus
1 Mana Crypt
1 Sol Ring
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Pearl
4 Force of Will
3 Mana Drain
3 Mental Misstep
1 Spell Snare
1 Vampiric Tutor
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
4 Grafdigger’s Cage
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Ingot Chewer
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Steel Sabotage
1 Mountain
1 Mindbreak Trap
1 Red Elemental Blast
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Cron’s list is similar to Modern Jund lists in that it’s a collection of the format’s most powerful cards. In Vintage, [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] is still legal, and its mana fixing helps tie these cards together, along with [card]City of Brass[/card]. There are answers here to most anything an opponent will throw at you, and it’s often simple just to put together Time Vault-Voltaic Key or find Tinker and get [card]Blightsteel Colossus[/card] for the easy win.

Against Dredge, most Vintage decks are going to lose game one decisively, but Cron’s deck can put up a decent fight with [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and [card]Toxic Deluge[/card] plus the opportunity to combo and win quickly. Postboard, you get to bring in eight good cards and two decent ones against Dredge: four [card]Leyline of the Void[/card], four [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card], and two [card]Ingot Chewer[/card]s, which are at least good for removing [card]Bridge from Below[/card]. Adding the sideboard to complement the [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]s gives Four-Color Control a great opportunity to win games two and three.

We started with a game one, just to show how Dredge typically works in Vintage.

Game 1 – On Dredge and Dredging

Eric won the die roll, opened, as expected, with [card]Bazaar of Baghdad[/card], and passed. (Without [card]Chalice of the Void[/card] or Unmask maindeck, there’s not much reason to use it on turn one.) Nat mulliganed to a keepable six that fortunately opened with a fetch for [card]Tropical Island[/card] into [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and a [card]Mox Sapphire[/card] into [card]Voltaic Key[/card]. With Key in play, there’s potential to topdeck or tutor for [card]Time Vault[/card] and just win. On Nat’s end step, Eric tapped Bazaar and put [card]Golgari Thug[/card], [card]Bridge from Below[/card], and [card]Cabal Therapy[/card] into his graveyard.

The fun was just beginning, though, as Eric tapped Bazaar again on his upkeep and dredged four with [card]Golgari Thug[/card] and an additional five with a [card]Stinkweed Imp[/card]. On his draw step, he dredged [card]Golgari Grave-Troll[/card] into another [card]Bloodghast[/card] and [card]Narcomoeba[/card]. Already almost a third of Eric’s library was his graveyard, including two [card]Bloodghast[/card]s, two [card]Narcomoeba[/card]s (triggered and in play), and two Bridges. He played a [card]City of Brass[/card], triggering landfall on two [card]Bloodghast[/card]s; then he sacrificed both of them to flashback [card]Cabal Therapy[/card], naming [card]Time Vault[/card] (miss) and [card]Force of Will[/card] (hit), which produced four [card]Bridge from Below[/card] tokens on the sacrifice.

Already the writing was on the wall for Nat. Eric sacrificed three Zombies to flashback [card]Dread Return[/card] on [card]Sun Titan[/card], which brought back a second [card]Bazaar of Baghdad[/card], triggering the [card]Bloodghast[/card]s’ landfall again. More dredging with Bazaar binned another third of Eric’s library but left him with no other useful actions (he was looking for a second [card]Dread Return[/card]), so he passed, saying, “Be there! One time, Time Vault!” on Nat’s behalf.

Nat did not draw [card]Time Vault[/card] and passed back. “Well. You lose,” said Eric. Even by removing a [card]Dread Return[/card] target with [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], Nat couldn’t overcome the tide of zombies, vampires, and horrors heading his way.

Nat boarded out three [card]Mana Drain[/card]s as well as [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], [card]Ancient Grudge[/card], [card]Spell Snare[/card], [card]Merchant Scroll[/card], and Island. In came the four [card]Leyline of the Void[/card], four [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card], and one [card]Ingot Chewer[/card]. The plan is to hate the graveyard and turn the Dredge deck into an awkward aggro deck.

Dredge, on the other hand, wants to keep its graveyard game an option and will sacrifice speed to do so. As such, Eric boarded out his combo, going down four [card]Serum Powder[/card], three [card]Fatestitcher[/card]s, two [card]Dread Return[/card] (leaving one), and one each [card]Sun Titan[/card], [card]Flame-Kin Zealot[/card], and [card]Golgari Thug[/card]. In their place he brought in quad-laser [card]Ingot Chewer[/card], [card]Nature’s Claim[/card], and [card]Chain of Vapor[/card]. Each of those cards will deal with either [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] or [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card]. For anything else, it’s racing time.

Game 2 – Leyline Costs Four

With Nat on the play, both players mulliganed for game two. Nat kept on six cards and a turn zero Leyline; Eric kept five cards, looking at an difficult battle. On turn one, Nat opened with a Mox Jet into [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and played [card]Volcanic Island[/card]. Eric played [card]Undiscovered Paradise[/card] and used it on Nat’s next end step to play [card]Chain of Vapor[/card] on the Leyline; then he followed up on his second turn with a Bazaar.

Nat played a [card]City of Brass[/card] but lacked the mana to replay Leyline, thanks to there being no lands in the graveyard to power up the Shaman. Eric started Dredging on Nat’s end of turn and continued on his own upkeep. Nat exiled a [card]Bloodghast[/card] with [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], but Eric produced six Zombie tokens by using an [card]Ingot Chewer[/card] on Nat’s Mox and by sacrificing a [card]Narcomoeba[/card] to [card]Cabal Therapy[/card] away the Leyline and an [card]Ingot Chewer[/card].

On his next turn (Nat having done nothing of note) Eric attacked for 15 and passed with lethal on board. Nat again did nothing useful, and the game was done-a typical example of what Dredge wants to do post-board.

Game 3 – Out Vintaged

Eric mulled to four in game three, while Nat kept seven on the play. A good seven! He opened with [card]Mox Sapphire[/card] and [card]Wasteland[/card] into [card]Time Walk[/card], then played [card]Black Lotus[/card] for [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card], and [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card]. Nat Walked and spun Top on his upkeep, drawing and playing [card]Voltaic Key[/card] before passing with an empty hand to Eric.

Eric played [card]Undiscovered Paradise[/card] and used it to cast [card]Nature’s Claim[/card] on the Cage. Nat untapped and Wasted Eric’s land, then tapped the Shaman to play [card]Demonic Tutor[/card] for [card]Time Vault[/card]. He passed, hoping Eric would not have a [card]Cabal Therapy[/card] to hardcast. Eric did not and passed back. Nat drew again and played [card]Time Vault[/card]. Eric bought a turn thanks to a [card]Chain of Vapor[/card], but soon Nat was taking all the turns and winning with [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] attacks. Thus the power inherent in Cron’s deck: disrupt and win.

Game 4 – Control Everything

One last one game for Nat on the play. Game four was a long and interesting match that would have been much longer (and almost certainly a loss for Nat) had he not had a turn-three [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]. Even with [card]Bazaar of Baghdad[/card] to draw and filter cards, Eric just couldn’t outpace the planeswalker.

Everything was back and forth: Eric hardcast two [card]Narcomoeba[/card]s, trying to play around Nat’s turn-zero Leyline, a [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card], and a second, hardcast Leyline. Eric attacked Jace; Jace gained counters by fatesealing. Eric tried to [card]Firestorm[/card] to kill Jace; Nat countered it with [card]Mental Misstep[/card] and used [card]Toxic Deluge[/card] to get rid of the [card]Narcomoeba[/card]s. Finally, as Eric ran out of cards in hand, Nat won the war of attrition, sealing the deal with [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] activations.

A great interactive game, and the first one Nat won through control.

At this point, the games switched to Eric being on the play, but Nat continued his winning ways, sweeping the rest. As long as Nat’s graveyard hate and counterspells outnumbered Eric’s removal cards, the games were simple. Eric couldn’t hardcast creatures quickly or in enough numbers to outrun Nat’s draw engine and broken cards. Nat won additional games with early Vault-Key, hardcast [card]Ingot Chewer[/card], and an opener of [card]Leyline of the Void[/card], [card]Black Lotus[/card], [card]Mox Jet[/card], [card]Tolarian Academy[/card], [card]Demonic Tutor[/card], [card]Tinker[/card], [card]Blightsteel Colossus[/card] (Quiz: what do you Tutor for?).

When the matches were finished, the matchup was discussed. In short, playing Dredge against a deck as prepared as Cron’s Four-Color Control is a difficult exercise. As Eric pointed out, he needs mana to cast answers, the answers themselves, and [card]Bazaar of Baghdad[/card] to start dredging, all before his opponent hits a second or third hate card. And the hate cards, at least in Cron’s list aren’t any less common: Dredge’s 12 removal cards versus the Leylines, Cages, counters to protect them, and secondary hate cards like [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], [card]Toxic Deluge[/card], and [card]Ingot Chewer[/card]. It’s an uphill battle.

Still, though, Dredge can win matches and regularly places well at tournaments. Many players disrespect the matchup; they don’t practice, so they don’t know how many hate cards to run, which ones to choose, or how best to apply them. If opponents don’t find hate or stumble defending it, Dredge can win quickly. Dredge also has that cyclical pattern of success we mentioned earlier. When Dredge does poorly or doesn’t appear at one event, opponent’s start cutting hate, opening the door for Dredge to make a resurgence at the next event. Then when it wins, people add their hate cards back in and knock Dredge back down again, and so on and so on.

That’s it for this round of Vintage Decksmashing. We’ll be back soon with another great matchup. Let us know in the comments if there’s anything you want to see or have questions about, or get in touch with us on Twitter. Thanks for reading!

Eric Caffrey
@OCKS_Rock

Nat Moes
@GrandpaBelcher