Battle Royale Round 12 – Son of NiceDraft

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As Rich Hoaen abdicated the Battle Royale crown, we have two new contenders today! The first? Bennie Smith. Can you guess what he’s bringing to the table? Let’s face it, everyone knew it would be a dredge deck… but is it enough to go all the way?

With the reigning champ running scared for six weeks or so, who will battle me? Okay, Rich isn’t exactly running scared… he’s busy making bank at Grand Prix: New Jersey and cooking up plans for Worlds domination, and I suppose we can cut him some slack. So this round of Battle Royale features two fresh pretenders to the throne; when Craig notified me of my opponent, my brain immediately showed its age:

Eli’s comin’
Eli’s comin’ (Eli’s a-comin’)
Well you better hide your heart, your loving heart
Eli’s a-comin’ and the cards say… a broken heart

Yes, it’s that cool tune by Three Dog Night, though hopefully the opening lyrics don’t portend my fate.

So, Eli Kaplan is coming with his digital cards. Suddenly, that cheerful, shirt-and-tie picture of Mr. Kaplan takes on a sinister air. What plots are hatching within his dark heart? Why is he living abroad? Is he on the lam from the law? Is he Gaijin king of the Tokyo Yakuza, the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s O-Ren Ishii character from the Kill Bill movies? If so, can I somehow channel my inner Kiddo?

O-Ren Ishii: Your deck is quite impressive. What is it?
Kiddo: Dredge.
O-Ren Ishii: [in Japanese] What sort of cards are in it?
Kiddo: [doesn’t understand Japanese] What?
O-Ren Ishii: What sort of cards are in it?
Kiddo: Draft cards.
O-Ren Ishii: YOU LIE!
[Kiddo flashes a Stinkweed Imp]
O-Ren Ishii: [in Japanese] Decks however, never get tired. I hope you saved your energy. If you haven’t… You may not last five minutes. But as draft decks go, you could do worse.

(Kiddo and O-Ren duel to the death)

O-Ren Ishii: [last lines] That really was a Dredge deck…

I peruse through Eli’s feature writer archives to take a measure of my opponent. He touches on Red Zone X, mono-Blue, Green/Red, Tooth and Nail, Solitary Confinement, B/W control (pre-Orzhov), and Battle of Wits, but mainly he writes a lot about Limited (which is far from my forte). So basically this tells me that trying to figure out what Eli is going to play in the Battle Royale is like trying to figure out why President Bush fired Don Rumsfeld after the 2006 election.

The one thing I can pretty well count on is that he will not be playing a Battle of Wits deck for $25 or less.

(And if he somehow puts together a Battle of Wits deck for $25 or less, I may just concede to him on the spot in awe of his budgetary prowess)

Okay, so all this research into my opponent is a wash… and I have to be honest, it probably wouldn’t have mattered to me if he’d written an epic thirteen-part series on My KarstenBotBabyKiller.

C’mon… I knew what I was going to play – it was inevitable. What deck of mine already plays a bunch of cheap-ass cards, looks little better than a decent draft deck, and yet performs surprisingly well?

Dredge, dredge, baby.

My dredge deck did great at Champs last year, but as the full Ravnica block unfurled, it’s tenuous hold on Tier 2 status started slipping away as more and more actually good, powerful spells hit the card pool. “But, but… the synergy!” only carries you so far in the dog eat dog world of Standard. And it’s a shame really, because there’s been a lot of cool and interesting cards that have come out for Dredge-centric strategies since last year, but when testing for Champs this year, I couldn’t get it to gel strong enough to feel comfortable with it.

Battle Royale, however, presents the perfect environment for its triumphant return! The deck doesn’t require many rares, and most of the rares it does require are fairly inexpensive. I sketch out a decklist and start pricing some of the rares and uncommons, hitting on a couple of bargains from a pair of Online MTGO trade sites. I had never bought digital card singles online before, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was.

I knew my biggest expense would probably be Haakon, Stromgald Scourge, not least of which due to the exploding popularity of Solar Pox and the Haakon / Court Hussar engine. One trader had them at $3.53, which seemed pretty reasonable, so I snatched up two of them. The Haakon/Knight engine fits in perfectly with the Dredge strategy. Stromgald Crusaders were a little pricey at $0.75 a pop, but you can’t have Haakon without his boys.

The next crucial piece of any Dredge deck is Life from the Loam, and luckily they weren’t too bad at $1.75 each (so I bought three). I also wanted to make sure I ran Mindless Automaton, which is a perfect inclusion in my deck: not only do you want a way to discard an early-drawn Haakon, but you can also make Mindless rather ridiculous with Life from the Loam. I was also curious about running Entropic Eidolon with the Mindless for “free” pumping whenever you cast a gold spell — and with Shambling Shell and Grave-Shell Scarab (only a buck!), casting gold spells should not be a problem.

The rest of the Dredge rares were surprisingly cheap – Necroplasm for just 35 cents, and Golgari Grave-Troll for just 46 cents! I even went ahead and tossed in Vhati Il-Dal for 80 cents each – he’s the right colors, and he’s got great synergy with Darkblast (an uncommon only 8 cents). The uncommon Indrik Stomphowler was just 15 cents, and Golgari Thug and Svogthos, the Restless Tomb were a nickel apiece.

My biggest concern would have been the mana; all the versions of Dredge decks I’ve played ran both Overgrown Tomb and Llanowar Wastes, but those awesome dual lands would have been severe budget busters. Golgari Rot Farm is a no-brainer, but I’m also thrilled to have Time Spiral’s Terramorphic Expanse, the budget player’s wet dream of a mana fixer!

So after a little bit of testing, here’s my weapon of choice:

If you haven’t read my Top 8 report Judging Dredge from last year, it pretty well details my approach to a dedicated Dredge deck. Some people flirt with Dredge, just skirting the possibilities; for example, see all these U/G decks running just Moldervine Cloak. Me, I go full-tilt, bringing Ms. Dredge flowers, chocolates, and two tickets to the opera. I really know how to treat a mechanic right, let me tell you. For me, nothing is quite so beautiful as a Dredge deck that has hit its sweet spot, where you are no longer drawing cards off the top of your deck, but instead pulling the keys to victory out of the graveyard each turn.

As such I have a fairly hard and fast rule for a dedicated Dredge deck: if you can’t access the card from the graveyard, you do not play it unless it’s something that’s good in the early game (when you’re still drawing from the top of your deck) and bad later on (when you’ll just dredge it away anyway). Mana birds and elves fit in this category. So do suspend spells (in particular I’m thinking about Living End). I didn’t use either this time around, but if I make it past Mr. Kaplan, I may shake things up a bit!

On a sidenote: yes, I was incredibly unhappy that Tormod’s Crypt got reprinted in Time Spiral. On a positive note though – going for $3.50 I have pretty high hopes Mr. Kaplan won’t eat into his budget just to get a couple of hoser cards!

Playing the deck, the basic strategy is this: wear out your opponent’s creatures with Darkblast and Stinkweed Imp, beatdown with Haakon and the boys, and eventually “go large” with a humongous Mindless Automaton and/or Svogthos, the Restless Tomb. You want to dredge early and often, with the goal to stop drawing off the top of your deck as soon as possible — getting access to Life from the Loam is the key to this. Keep an eye out for Golgari Thug since he can retrieve key non-dredgeables from your graveyard such as the Automaton, Indrik Stomphowler, and Vhati (Vhati, Vhati, he likes to party… sorry about that…) il-Dal.

For the sideboard: Golgari Brownscale is in there in case Eli comes slinging some of the really good cheap burn that’s out there. With a Mindless Automaton out there, pitching and dredging a Brownscale a few times can net a pretty good amount of life. I also plan on going up to four Necroplasm and four Shambling Shells if Eli is playing a weenie deck. I can go up to four Stomphowlers if Eli comes backing problematic enchantments or artifacts. The Trespassers are there in case he has shadow beatdown going on (and they’re also helpful discard outlets for Haakon). Two Skulking Knights and another Vhati Vhati come in if the maindeck Indriks (and maybe a Necroplasm) are unnecessary in the matchup.

Now comes the challenge of figuring out a good time to play someone who lives in Japan…

Before I wrap this up, I’d like to just say thanks to Editor Craig and Chris Romeo for cooking up this idea. Since I first read about it, I’ve been dying to give it a try, and it’s been fun figuring out the best build while staying under budget. For the record, here’s how the costs shake out:

Unit Total
2 Haakon, Stromgald Scourge $3.53 $7.06
3 Life from the Loam $1.75 $5.25
3 Mindless Automaton $1.00 $3.00
1 Grave-Shell Scarab $1.00 $1.00
3 Vhati il-Dal $0.80 $2.40
4 Stromgald Crusader $0.75 $3.00
1 Golgari Grave-Troll $0.46 $0.46
4 Necroplasm $0.35 $1.40
4 Indrik Stomphowler $0.15 $0.60
4 Darkblast $0.08 $0.32
2 Golgari Thug $0.05 $0.10
2 Svogthos, the Restless Tomb $0.05 $0.10


With 31 cents to spare! I’ll see you all in the Anything Goes Casual Room; come on out and root for the slow player with the massive graveyard.


[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Battle takes place on Saturday 18th November at 8pm EST, in the Anything Goes Casual Room on Magic Online. Be there!]