Decimating The Pioneer Classic With Sultai Dredge

Ross Merriam made the finals of the Pioneer Classic at SCG Knoxville with Sultai Dredge! Get his latest list and a sideboarding guide!

Decimator of the Provinces, illustrated by Svetlin Velinov

I tried to give Amulet Titan a redemption arc, after a disastrous record in the Season Two Invitational last November left me on the outside looking in at the Players’ Championship. It…did not go well.

Two missed cuts in two Opens isn’t the way I wanted to start the year, but at least I would be spared another day of Modern and get to play what is, in my opinion, the best format in Magic right now: Pioneer.

I could’ve tried to cobble together Big Red or Mono-Black Aggro, which are the two best-performing decks in the metagame right now. Mono-Black Aggro nearly salvaged that Invitational for me with a nigh-flawless record in the Pioneer portion, and even with the loss of Smuggler’s Copter the deck was powerful and I’m comfortable piloting it.

But after writing a lot about graveyard decks in Pioneer recently, I wanted to show what Stitcher’s Supplier could do. I put together the following Sultai Dredge list:

The maindeck is straightforward, though the numbers on Driven and Decimator of the Provinces vary from list to list. Both are meant to help break through stalled battlefields but I thought the latter would be better in that role, so I favored the biggest pig in the multiverse.

In the sideboard, you often see Abrupt Decay, but I wanted the most versatile removal possible. Assassin’s Trophy handles Leyline of the Void; Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet; and other problematic cards, while Ultimate Price comes in when you want to play more of a fair game, killing Glorybringers and Questing Beasts that Abrupt Decay misses.

Assassin's Trophy Ultimate Price Abrupt Decay

The one matchup where I missed Decay was Hardened Scales, where their synergies can trump yours, so having a clean, early answer for Hardened Scales, Winding Constrictor, and Walking Ballista is valuable.

Lastly, I included three copies of Damping Sphere because I was scared of the Lotus Field deck. It’s not particularly popular right now, but engine decks like this rarely want to sideboard many cards in any given matchup, so you’re not hurting for space and can afford to target difficult matchups more heavily. I never played against Lotus Field and the Damping Spheres sat in my sideboard all day, but it never felt detrimental to my other matchups.

I hummed through the Swiss rounds with a 5-0 record, and was happy to be able to double draw into the Top 8, not a guarantee given we were right up against the cutoff for an eighth round. I played against a nice sample of the top decks in the metagame, including Mono-Black Aggro, Big Red, and Azorius Control, ultimately losing the finals in my third match against Big Red, which looks to be the top-performing deck. Not a bad way to salvage a weekend.

Lessons from the Tournament

First, Decimator of the Provinces was the truth. Historically, graveyard decks have been excellent against reactive, removal-heavy strategies because their recursive threats give them inevitability. Where graveyard decks often struggle is against creature matchups that beat them on the battlefield. This is the main reason Conflagrate and Creeping Chill are so important for Modern Dredge; the former wrecks their battlefield position, while the latter gives the Dredge player time to establish their engine.

Decimator of the Provinces

Pioneer has plenty of creature decks, and Big Red especially can take over a battlefield and close the game quickly with its flyers and burn spells, letting them use their removal to keep you off balance in the early-game and largely ignoring the card advantage you gain from recurring creatures. Decimator of the Provinces flips that script, letting you set up a combo finish with Gurmag Angler or Haunted Dead as the fodder. Between Satyr Wayfinder, Stitcher’s Supplier, Narcomoeba, and Haunted Dead, you have plenty of bodies lying around that Decimator turns into a formidable army.

I won fifteen games in the Classic, and I’d wager about half of them ended with a Decimator-fueled attack, and most of those would have been very difficult to win otherwise. And best of all, you only need two copies because Grisly Salvage and Gather the Pack churn through your deck so efficiently.

On a related note, I should’ve played the fourth Gurmag Angler. I didn’t run into issues drawing multiple copies, since it was either trivial to cast them or discard uncastable copies to Haunted Dead. But the first copy was particularly important. Very little of the removal being played right now answers it, and the body stabilizes the battlefield against aggressive decks, lets you extend to the battlefield in the face of cards like Anger of the Gods, and is the fastest emerge fodder for Decimator of the Provinces.

Gurmag Angler

Additionally, Gurmag Angler occupies an important spot on the curve. Sultai Dredge has a much higher curve than most graveyard decks, with most of its enablers costing two mana. This can lead to clunky draws, especially if your opponent is on the play. To help limit these stumbles, I was aggressively digging for Gurmag Angler and Stitcher’s Supplier on Turns 2 and 3 so that I could double-spell as early as possible.

And finally, the most important lesson from the day: Scrapheap Scrounger is the worst card in the deck. The only matchup where I was happy to draw it was against Azorius Control. It’s rare that you run out of things to do with your mana, and by the time you have two to spare, the value of Scrapheap Scrounger is minimal. The first copy has some value as insurance against Pithing Needle and similar effects taking out your Haunted Deads, but those cards are nowhere near popular enough to keep Scrounger in the deck should a better option be found.

Moving forward, I’d play the following list:

Minor changes here, mostly in the sideboard. The third Assassin’s Trophy was excessive, since you only ever want that many against hate cards, and Reclamation Sage answers those cards more efficiently and can be found off Grisly Salvage and Gather the Pack. It also plays very well against Hardened Scales, which I’ve seen pick up recently and want to be more prepared for.

Sideboard Guide

VS Big Red


Scrapheap Scrounger Driven Haunted Dead


Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Assassin's Trophy

I felt very comfortable playing this matchup, even with three or four Tormod’s Crypt in their sideboard. They generally aren’t able to get ahead of you outside of the Goblin Rabblemaster draws, so prioritize Satyr Wayfinder on Turn 2 to trade with the first token and an early Gurmag Angler to block the Rabblemaster itself.

Since they slow you down with Crypt in the sideboard games, having a touch of removal yourself is prudent, but I prefer a minimalist approach. The Ultimate Prices are excellent, and the Assassin’s Trophy is easy enough to find space for but isn’t a necessity. Be cognizant of Embercleave if you’re in a racing scenario.

VS Mono-Black Aggro


Scrapheap Scrounger Driven Haunted Dead Gurmag Angler


Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Assassin's Trophy Assassin's Trophy

I bring in more removal here than against Big Red because Mono-Black Aggro has two must-answer cards in Leyline of the Void and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. If you know your opponent doesn’t have one or more of these cards, feel free to trim on removal and keep in the fourth Angler and/or the Haunted Dead.

Save your removal for high-value targets like the ones listed above, Spawn of Mayhem, and Rankle, Master of Pranks. You should be able to stabilize the battlefield against their smaller creatures and set up a Decimator eventually.

VS Azorius Control


Decimator of the Provinces Decimator of the Provinces Gurmag Angler Gurmag Angler Gurmag Angler Gurmag Angler Stitcher's Supplier


Thoughtseize Thoughtseize Thoughtseize Assassin's Trophy Assassin's Trophy Disdainful Stroke Driven

Against all their removal and sweepers, Decimator of the Provinces is difficult to leverage. Instead, Despair becomes your big finisher, letting the assorted 1/1s that your opponent is trying to ignore turn into a Mind Twist that effectively ends the game.

Similarly, Gurmag Angler is a liability against their removal, in particular Azorius Charm, Teferi, Time Raveler, and Supreme Verdict. You don’t need to go too quickly here; instead, take your time and get maximum value from your recursive threats while trying to be wary of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which can take over a game, and Settle the Wreckage, which can decimate your position if you’re not careful.

In the sideboard games, Lyra Dawnbringer and Rest in Peace are threatening enough to warrant Assassin’s Trophy, and your other disruption should be focused on their high-impact cards or a counterspell that is protecting them from Despair.

VS Mono-Green Ramp


Scrapheap Scrounger Gurmag Angler Creeping Chill Creeping Chill Prized Amalgam


Thoughtseize Thoughtseize Thoughtseize Disdainful Stroke Driven

They have good roadblocks and cards like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon that are nigh-unbeatable. That means I want both Despair and Decimator of the Provinces as finishers alongside the Thoughtseizes and Disdainful Stroke to stop their important threats or slow their ramp.

What’s coming out is a smattering of cards across the fringes, which is typical of graveyard decks. Decimator and Despair should end the game by miles, so Creeping Chill can be trimmed. Gurmag Angler is the threat with the highest diminishing returns and Haunted Dead plays too well with your finishers to cut, so one Prized Amalgam hits the bench.

Some Mono-Green Ramp lists have Scavenging Ooze in the sideboard, but you can’t afford to play a reactive game against them, so I’d rather admit I’m going to lose some games to it than dilute my deck further with removal spells.

VS Hardened Scales


Scrapheap Scrounger Driven Narcomoeba Satyr Wayfinder


Assassin's Trophy Assassin's Trophy Reclamation Sage Reclamation Sage

I noted earlier that their synergies are powerful enough to trump ours, so I respect them with some removal. Because Walking Ballista takes down X/1 creatures so easily, I look at those first when it comes to trimming payoffs and enablers to make room.

VS Lotus Field


Scrapheap Scrounger Gurmag Angler Prized Amalgam Creeping Chill Creeping Chill Creeping Chill Creeping Chill


Thoughtseize Thoughtseize Thoughtseize Disdainful Stroke Driven Damping Sphere Damping Sphere

I approach this matchup similarly to Mono-Green Ramp, with the added benefit that Damping Sphere is a house against them. Use your haymakers to close them out quickly, since the recursive nature of your threats is rendered irrelevant by their combo kills. 

Don’t be cute and let them resolve Granted thinking you can Disdainful Stroke the target. They may get Anger of the Gods.

VS Sultai Dredge


Scrapheap Scrounger Driven Haunted Dead


Assassin's Trophy Assassin's Trophy Tormod's Crypt

The mirror is largely about Gurmag Angler, since it’s both the biggest body on the battlefield and the easiest way to enable Decimator of the Provinces. Thus, I bring in Trophy to answer it, with the added benefit of covering you against potential Leyline of the Voids from your opponent.

Moving Forward

We have the full card list for Theros Beyond Death and Tymaret Calls the Dead makes a strong case to find a home in Sultai Dredge. For more detailed thoughts on the card and its home in this deck, consult my recent article here, but I’ll offer an updated list for the deck after the new set drops, based on what I learned last weekend:

Scrapheap Scrounger gets out of the deck for good, and I think Gather the Pack is worse than Grisly Salvage since finding lands comes up more often than finding two creatures when you have spell mastery. There’s also value in being able to hold up a piece of interaction in a sideboard game and cast it or Grisly Salvage depending on what your opponent does.

I wouldn’t fault you for trimming another card for a fourth copy of Tymaret Calls the Dead just to test it out, but I don’t think you want the full set in a deck with only twenty lands. The curve is already clogged at two, and while Tymaret Calls the Dead can make you more mana-efficient and more powerful by letting you use all your mana on Turn 3, even without a Gurmag Angler or Stitcher’s Supplier, multiples can lead to very slow draws.

With Big Red gaining in popularity, Sultai Dredge is poised as an excellent foil. They are already sideboarding as much graveyard hate as they reasonably can, and I don’t think it’s enough to turn the matchup around. Most other decks have two or three pieces, so we’re in the sweet spot where a graveyard deck is good and the metagame hasn’t properly reacted to it. I beat Scavenging Ooze and Tormod’s Crypt last weekend, and never had to play against Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace. And there’s the added benefit of new cards, especially the combo of Walking Ballista and Heliod, Sun-Crowned, distracting the metagame for the next few weeks.

Take advantage while you can.