Decision Making For Grand Prix Cincinnati

Ari Lax tells you about the G/B Dredge deck he played to fifteenth place at the Standard Grand Prix in Cincinnati. See if you should try it yourself at #SCGINVI this weekend!


I should have booked a ticket to Grand Prix Cincinnati before Pro Tour Born of the Gods, but I put it off for when I would have more time to pay attention to things.

I should have booked a ticket to Grand Prix Cincinnati right when I got back from Valencia, but I waited to see if the price would go down. [Editor’s Note: Because that’s ever happened in regards to Magic travel.]

Starting at my computer screen on the Sunday of Grand Prix Montreal, I thought to myself "am I really going to pay this much for a Grand Prix I don’t have a deck for seven days in advance?"

Let’s be real. Of course I was.

The first deck I tested was Mono-Black Aggro. Mogis’s Marauders is probably my favorite card in Standard right now despite my team’s failings with it at Pro Tour Theros. Ever since Intimidator Initiate back in Shadowmoor Draft, I’ve been all about Falters that attack.

It turned out the deck is exactly the same as the deck I played in October. Your control and Monsters matchups are great, but good luck beating any of the monocolored decks. Mono-Black Devotion (and B/W Midrange) is stacked with things that ignore your evasion, Mono-Blue Devotion simply has better early drops and a bigger end game, and Mono-Red Devotion has Boros Reckoner. None of these are really beatable, and neither is Voice of Resurgence out of the various Naya decks.

After that I played some with Jund Monsters before quickly determining the deck is an unplayable clunk fest. When you lead on Elvish Mystic or any other mana guy, your followup plays should be a sequence of fluid cheap spells that maximize your mana use and eventually the random body (Elves, Jund) or just a big dumb three-drops (classic Doran).

While good, Domri Rade is not that three-drop. Courser of Kruphix certainly is not that three-drop. Ramping into a four-drop that is smaller than the opposing four-drops with a hand full of five drops that are worse than your opponent’s five-drops certainly is not a fluid mix of spells.

Also, we’re ramping into undersized threats just to run headfirst into Tidebinder Mage and Lifebane Zombie? Whose bright idea was this?

R/W Burn was the next deck up. That lasted three matches. Again, on a fundamental level the deck is unplayable. It turns out that when all of your burn spells cost two, you lose the "races normal people decks" aspect of burn that makes it good. In general, being a non-interactive deck that is slower than your opponent’s deck is not a good play. It’s even worse when your deck revolves around using all of your cards to win, not allowing you margins of error in mana flood, mana screw, or mulligans.

In real time, this brings us to Grand Prix Montreal. I had four leads coming out of discussions with people at that event:

  • Jared Boettcher had a Mono-Black Devotion list that splashed red for Rakdos’s Return. That card was stellar, but the deck didn’t solve the big issue I had with the lists I tried before Born of the Gods. You’re just short a card that can win the game. Gray Merchant of Asphodel is a cool trick, but it’s too often a blank or a win more. There is a very specific subset of games where it does good work and shines, but most of the time it’s a five-mana 2/4 that treads water.
  • Mani Davoudi had an Esper Midrange list that sounded interesting and incorporated Obzedat, Ghost Council. That card seemed especially insane against the U/W removal suites of the time, but then I watched someone playing the deck get Lifebane Zombied and reveal multiple Lyev Skyknight and no blue mana. This is really the best we can get out of three colors?
  • Esper Control had all of the awesome cards, namely Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. The deck tested reasonably well, but the mirror sounded absolutely abysmal. I was unsure I could properly spread the removal suite to answer everything. I knew I would have to handle Domri Rade and Obzedat, Ghost Council, and without Supreme Verdict to lean on as an equalizer, the deck struggled with some of its clunkier draws.
  • I had watched Chase Cosgrove trounce people in the Sunday Super Series with B/W Midrange. From what I saw, the deck fixed the threat density of Mono-Black Devotion with Blood Baron of Vizkopa, a card that singlehandedly swings games, and got to incorporate Elspeth, Sun’s Champion with a better curve than Esper.

I also tried out Naya Hexproof. While it was definitely easy mode against a whole lot of things, I didn’t feel like the control matchup was good enough to play it in a long event.

My video last week really highlights how well I was doing with B/W Midrange. In every matchup it felt like my cards were great, and I was getting close to a perfect list. The changes I made to Harrison Hite’s deck for that video actually felt pretty good, and I soon discovered I wanted the third Underworld Connections main just based on board out numbers often leaving me with one slot for a card draw spell versus aggro, meaning I could afford to minimize the first three slots there to handle the closer mirror and control matchups. The other sign I should play the deck was that DJ Kastner was strongly leaning toward it; he tends to be right more often than not.

If I had played B/W Midrange at this event, I would have sleeved up this 75:

Some minor notes on the changes I made from Harrison’s list:

Maindeck Removal Suite

I’m a hundred percent sure I want two copies of Bile Blight, one Devour Flesh, and one Ultimate Price. The last two slots could be a third Bile Blight (but not four) or a Last Breath instead of rounding out the 2-2-2 split. Last Breath is a choice very specific to a metagame full of Nightveil Specter and Chandra’s Phoenix with few Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but I felt the Devour Flesh did most of the same work against Burn (target myself, sacrifice Desecration Demon, put you down two full cards of burn) while being better against Baron in the mirror and protecting Pack Rat from Bile Blight and Detention Sphere.

3 Underworld Connections, 1 Read the Bones

Underworld Connections is a game breaker in the mirror and against Esper Control, but Read the Bones is better everywhere else. Of course, Esper and mirrors are the matchups I wanted to hedge against, so I biased in that direction. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the sideboarding numbers come down to you having to board out a third card draw spell against aggro anyway, so having three of the suboptimal one there is even less of an issue than it looks.

3 Blood Baron of Vizkopa, 1 Obzedat, Ghost Council

I was more focused on beating Esper Control than the mirror. Obzedat, Ghost Council is also better against a lot of random things like Monsters where protection from white and black doesn’t actually cover anything.

1 Pharika’s Cure

I played a lot against red decks on Magic Online and wanted some more early removal against them. The life gain on Pharika’s Cure is a huge swing relative to the other options, but it’s very possible this should just be another Doom Blade.

B/W Midrange was good, but I found a deck I felt was simply great. It was suggested to me by Matt McCullough, who had been having some success with it in his testing. We accidentally joined the same two-man event, and I got crushed playing Esper Control. I then played a two-man event with it and crushed my opponent on Mono-Black Devotion. I played another two-man. I crushed Esper. I played another two-man. I crushed Jund Monsters.

That was good enough for me to sleeve up this:

First of all, why is this deck so good?

Almost all of the other Standard decks feel like Limited decks. You have some bombs, a bit of interaction, and a fair amount of filler. Esper Control is pretty much the only deck that isn’t that way, and even that is loose for a control deck because the answers are so awkward.

Dredge is a cohesive strategy. You have twelve incentive cards, twelve enablers that mostly also find your incentive cards, a mana base that feeds your incentive cards, and "filler" that pushes them through.

The Deck

To break it all down into categories:


4 Nighthowler

If you were going to pay 2BB and receive a creature with haste and undying, what would the fair size be?  3/3? Maybe 4/4 if it was a rare pushed for Constructed?

Nighthowler is almost always that card, but it’s bigger than what anyone would consider fair. It even comes with another mode of "just" being a 1BB 5/5 or larger. I one-shot multiple opponents from the fourteen life range with this card and would go as far to say Nighthowler is one of the Top 10 most powerful cards in the format.

4 Nemesis of Mortals

Is 1GG a good rate for a 5/5? What about GG?

What about a vanilla 10/10? 1GGGG? GGGG?

This guy is just a vanilla beater, but again the rate on it is insane. I rarely paid more than four mana for monstrosity, at which point it wins in combat against any other creature in the format.

Well, maybe except Nighthowler.

2 Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord

This guy has three abilities, and I have three points to make about him.

First of all, yet another giant guy to smash faces in.

Second, he breaks board stalls for your other giant guys. Abyssing your way through a Master of Waves can be tough work. Launch a 10/10 at them with Jarad and they’re likely dead.

Third, he is a card that is active in the graveyard. If you flip him off of any of your enablers, you have drawn a free card. With all of the mana guys and Wayfinders, this deck regularly has extra lands to turn into a creature and importantly regularly hits the seven-mana threshold where an in-graveyard Jarad can be returned to hand, recast, and activated in the same turn. Just remember to tap your lands for mana before you sacrifice them.

2 Shadowborn Demon

5/6 flying for five mana isn’t bad, and this guy carries a Nighthowler fairly well. The six-creature drawback usually means you have to sacrifice around one creature for this guy to stick around, but typically you have some random mana creature that isn’t doing anything that can be thrown away.

The big deal here is the enters the battlefield trigger. This is a piece of removal that you can find with Grisly Salvage and Commune with the Gods. You don’t need to interact with people to win, but the ability to do so makes a lot of matchups much easier, namely Monsters and Mono-Blue Devotion.

That said, you can’t afford more than two of this guy in the maindeck. He’s quite bad against Esper Control (the destroy is not optional) and not very good against Mono-Black Devotion (the destroy is non-Demon and can’t target Blood Baron of Vizkopa).


Before I get into any of the enablers, realize that all of the cards I’m playing here find you a card. This is a huge factor in the deck’s consistency. Also note that Drown in Filth requires a target.

4 Grisly Salvage, 4 Commune With The Gods, 4 Satyr Wayfinder

If you’re going to Impulse into a card, it has to be a creature, land, or enchantment. You’ll notice that there are very few cards that aren’t one of those in the deck. In fact, there are none in the maindeck that aren’t one of these enablers (sorry, we can’t wish for more wishes).

Now let’s talk about Satyr Wayfinder and how it specifically put this deck over the edge.

A big part of this deck is the bestow mechanic. Bestow requires things to target. Another big part of this deck is having critical creature density for your incentive cards. Even when sideboarding, the minimum number I ever present is around 28 creatures.

Satyr Wayfinder gives your deck enough playable small creatures to make both of these things happen. It was the most common thing to wear a Nighthowler in the games I played and at the worst chumps to gain life and hit the graveyard while keeping you at card parity.


3 Herald of Torment

Yet another instance of the bestow mechanic being awesome. This time you get to force through your giant monsters and kill people from thirteen or more life.

3 Lotleth Troll

The worst card in the deck by miles. Unlike a true dredge deck, all of your creatures are things you want to cast if you draw them. You’re short on cards that are actually graveyard active where the discard is a benefit. Also, regenerate is terrible in a world full of Bile Blight, Azorius Charm, and Detention Sphere.

Still, this thing blocks well and makes their attempted blocking of Nighthowler go very poorly, so it makes the cut for now. It also is a beast against Esper Control, dodging Hero’s Downfall, Ultimate Price, Doom Blade, and Supreme Verdict. In the future I would consider playing a Rogue’s Passage over the third copy, giving you some action to find off of Satyr Wayfinder that also pushes through a Nemesis of Mortals or Nighthowler.

The Mana

Here’s the secret to Standard: the mana sucks.

Every deck is trying to play five-drops with a midrange mana base. It turns out that if you do that without some way to make your extra lands work, you end up in this weird middle ground where your deck has mana flood and screw issues.

The typical way to avoid these issues in this format is with Mutavault and scry lands. There’s a reason the U/W Control decks play fourteen lands from this category, and there’s also a reason why the decks that play Supreme Verdict as an equalizer to balance the stacks of come into play tapped lands do so well.

This deck’s answer to this issue is to make its lands into creatures. You need approximately 28 creatures to hit the density required to make Nighthowler and company work, so being able to devote ten land slots to this makes hitting that number easy.

Sylvan Caryatid and Elvish Mystic are the obviously good options here, but Deathrite Shaman is also great in small quantities. You can’t reliably fuel multiples, but the first copy is almost always better than an Elvish Mystic would be thanks to the mana fixing and extra damage output.

General Tips

Hands without an enabler are usually pretty bad. The exception is the occasional Lotleth Troll all-in draw.

Lotleth Troll plus Nighthowler is plus two damage per discarded creature. I never killed someone this way, but it was real close.

You can respond to a Shadowborn Demon trigger with a Grisly Salvage. If you hit six creatures in graveyard, the intervening if clause on the trigger makes it so you don’t have to sacrifice a creature.

You can sacrifice tapped lands to Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord. You can use the sacrificed lands from Jarad for Deathrite Shaman mana. Most of the games I cast Jarad were in the mode of 1BBBGGG: Flashback Fling where I rebought and immediately activated it.

Commune with the Gods, Satyr Wayfinder, and Grisly Salvage are all "mays." On two or three occasions I opted to take nothing to enable a Nemesis of Mortals casting, a lethal Nighthowler, or a Deathrite Shaman activation.

Matchups & Sideboarding

Let’s start with the biggest enemies right now:

Mono-Black Devotion & Black-White Midrange


You beat Pack Rat draws when you make 10/10s faster than they make an army of 5/5s or one-shot them with a flying 14/14. You beat non Pack Rat draws when you make creatures bigger than Desecration Demon or Blood Baron of Vizkopa and use bestow to make their removal bad.


Don’t walk into Elspeth, Sun’s Champion’s -3 against B/W Midrange.

If possible, get your Nemesis of Mortals down before a Lifebane Zombie when on the play.

When facing Pack Rat, being aggressive is usually good. You have a lot of chump blockers, and the long game definitely favors the person with the Rats. Also, know how Pack Rat plus Mutavault changes math.


Out (on the play):

Shadowborn Demon

Out (on the draw):

Deathrite Shaman


Whip of Erebos

If they’re Mono-Black Devotion, add the second Whip of Erebos for the second copy of whatever was cut above.

Whip of Erebos is insane in a grindy game, but it’s even more insane when it pushes you out of Gray Merchant of Asphodel range against Mono-Black. When their threat is Blood Baron of Vizkopa, being at a higher life total matters a bit less.

All the other cards suck. You don’t need to kill Pack Rat since your deck usually races it. You don’t need to kill Desecration Demon because you usually have fodder for it. Just play a solid heads-up game and hope they don’t have all of the removal like my round 15 opponent did.

Esper Control


Make their removal as awkward as it can be. Abuse the haste and bestow mechanics to make them have to play answers inefficiently.


Lotleth Troll is huge here. Don’t let it get Supreme Verdicted unless their Verdict exposes them to Nighthowler death.

Bestow so that you can have a board presence after Supreme Verdict or so that you can force a +1 with Jace, Architect of Thought that isn’t good.

Not that this matters much in gameplay, but the Esper list that loads up on Hero’s Downfall on top of Detention Sphere is the only major deck (Monsters, Blue, Esper, Black) I would consider an actual bad matchup. The ability to kill your Nighthowlered creature in combat regardless of color then Supreme Verdict to follow up makes it a lot harder to pinch their removal suite.



Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Sylvan Caryatid Nemesis of Mortals Nemesis of Mortals Nemesis of Mortals Shadowborn Demon Shadowborn Demon


Mistcutter Hydra Mistcutter Hydra Mistcutter Hydra Mistcutter Hydra Thoughtseize Thoughtseize Thoughtseize Thoughtseize Golgari Charm

Sylvan Caryatid is just extra mana that doesn’t attack and dies to Supreme Verdict. Shadowborn Demons is obviously trash when you have to target one of your own creatures with the non-optional trigger. Nemesis of Mortals is more subtly bad, but it’s just a big guy that they can Doom Blade.

Mistcutter Hydra presents openings in a lot of subtle ways. It takes down Jace, Architect of Thought from nowhere, makes open Dissolves bad, and dodges Azorius Charm and Detention Sphere. Just know when to sequence this as opposed to a different threat to take advantage of the board state.

As for Thoughtseize, just read this. Reid Duke says it all way better than I can in this space.

Golgari Charm is an answer to their two best removal spells: Detention Sphere and Supreme Verdict. It’s almost another haste creature since you can end of turn kill a Sphere. I would want the second moving forward, but more than two can lead to flooding on non-threat effects.

Note that Whip of Erebos is way too slow here. It’s also bad since Nighthowler is usually exiled to Detention Sphere or Revoke Existence and Nemesis of Mortals turns into a 0/0 Hydra post-board.

Be aware of Dark Betrayal as a one-mana option for them post-board. Almost always the right card to Thoughtseize is their Blood Baron of Vizkopa or Archangel of Thune. The exception is when you can cut them off of interaction early to the point a five-drop just doesn’t matter.

You are the aggro. Your goal is to make the game relatively short so they don’t get the time or mana to find a point to catch up to your resilient threats. Sometimes you have to play into Supreme Verdict; sometimes you don’t. Figure it out based on how well your hand lines up with a follow-up removal spell.

W/R Burn


Know how their mana and cards in hand can add up to lethal. Conserve life if possible early; later once they are close to hellbent, you are often better off closing if you die to drawn burn.


Count the life gain off Warleader’s Helix if that may be a thing.

Know when their white mana constricts lines like multiple copies of Boros Charm.

If they ever start burning your guys with things that aren’t Searing Blood, that’s a good thing unless they’re attacking at the same time.



Herald of Torment Herald of Torment Lotleth Troll Lotleth Troll


Whip of Erebos Whip of Erebos Scavenging Ooze Devour Flesh

The third Shadowborn Demon is also a very reasonable board in, and if they show Boros Reckoner, you want at least three if not four.

I like leaving in a Herald of Torment or two because of Chandra’s Phoenix, but it really isn’t great unless it tries to block that card.

Devour Flesh is mostly going to target yourself. Beyond that there isn’t much to say here. Don’t get Skullcracked to death; otherwise they can’t beat a Whip of Erebos.

Mono-Blue Devotion


This is a race. You either get them into Abyss mode with giant copies of Nighthowler early or make an evasive guy lethal. They either Master of Waves for more tokens than you can bash through or Thassa, God of the Sea you to death.


Hard casting Herald of Torment to block is a big deal since it trumps Nightveil Specter in the skies.

Watch for Judge’s Familiar on Grisly Salvage and Commune with the Gods.

They will likely slow roll Tidebinder Mage. If they don’t have one early, that doesn’t mean you are clear to Nighthowler a green guy.

Killing stuff with Shadowborn Demon early is typically better than waiting for the "best target" since it prevents their good cards from getting out of hand.

Rapid Hybridization does not allow for regeneration. Sorry Lotleth Troll.

Try to finish them before they hit seven mana for Cyclonic Rift if possible.



Lotleth Troll Lotleth Troll Lotleth Troll Deathrite Shaman Deathrite Shaman Nemesis of Mortals Nemesis of Mortals Nemesis of Mortals


Mistcutter Hydra Mistcutter Hydra Mistcutter Hydra Mistcutter Hydra Shadowborn Demon Shadowborn Demon Whip of Erebos Whip of Erebos

If they are the white splash list, you want a Golgari Charm to answer Detention Sphere over the fourth Nemesis of Reason.

Lotleth Troll is tapped down by Tidebinder Mage, as is Nemesis of Mortals. Deathrite Shaman is fine but unexciting.

Whip of Erebos helps you race Thassa, God of the Sea or more realistically anything.

Mistcutter Hydra has the best evasion you can ask for in this matchup. Just be sure to plan for the plan of Rapid Hybridization on their own creature to make a 3/3 green blocker.



Your cards are bigger and better than theirs. Maintain parity and you will easily win.


Scavenging Ooze can be a problem, but you easily regain graveyard position after a Shadowborn Demon hits it. Nemesis of Mortals also wins the heads up very easily.



Deathrite Shaman Lotleth Troll


Shadowborn Demon Shadowborn Demon

Cut some of the less necessary cards and add more copies of Shriekmaw.

This should be one of the easiest matchups if they don’t draw Scavenging Ooze. Even if they do, Shadowborn Demon is pretty much completely unbeatable for them.

Aggro (Red, Mono-Black, Naya, Hexproof, White)


You have the bigger guys and get to clocking them fast. Their swarm will overrun you given slightly less than infinite time, so attacking with your monster to force chump blocks is often the best outcome. Make a big guy, stop their good attacks, make another, and start jamming to end the game.


Brave the Elements is a card out of Naya decks with one-drops and white aggro.

Both Naya decks are positioned to make Boros Charm’s double strike option matter. Do the math on Ghor-Clan Rampager versus the non-Hexproof lists and for Boros Charm or Ajani, Caller of the Pride against Hexproof.

Nice intimidate on Mogis’s Marauders.


Shadowborn Demon is good against all of these decks, as is Whip of Erebos. Golgari Charm is good against white aggro since it hits Spear of Heliod and wipes their 2/1s and is obviously good against Hexproof, but that’s about it. Devour Flesh is only good if the matchup is a straight race where their next attack isn’t also for a ton of damage (mostly red) or again versus Hexproof.

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord is the easiest cut, but after that it is difficult. Herald of Torment gets shaved, but having zero also isn’t ideal since leaping things matters.

Red Devotion


Barring their nut draws where you’re dead before you make actions, you’re actually on par with them in terms of board presence production. You gain your leverage on their inconsistency because Ash Zealot and Burning-Tree Emissary are way worse enablers than Grisly Salvage and Commune with the Gods.


Boros Reckoner is their best card. If they have it, you have issues breaking through. If they don’t, you can just turn your cards sideways until they die.

Mizzium Mortars doesn’t actually kill your creatures.

Keep count for Fanatic of Mogis. Sometimes there isn’t much you can do, but managing blocks to live through it or knowing when you have to race it is important.



Lotleth Troll Lotleth Troll Lotleth Troll Deathrite Shaman


Shadowborn Demon Shadowborn Demon Whip of Erebos Devour Flesh

Lotleth Troll is just a small idiot in a matchup of bombs. Deathrite shaman is fine but again not great in non-attrition matchups, whereas Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord lets you kill through a Boros Reckoner.

Devour Flesh is awesome when killing any early creature is big game and when gaining life against Fanatic of Mogis means the difference between life and death. Whip fills on that last point as well, but you only want one as the miser’s out since the activation isn’t important. Also Shadowborn Demon blah blah Shriekmaw is a hell of a card blah blah.

Their sideboard doesn’t change much. Your threats are still bigger than theirs and still faster than their non Burning-Tree Emissary draws. You just have more outs to Boros Reckoner. Bash, rinse, repeat.

Would I advise people to play Dredge moving forward? Maybe. The answer depends entirely on how many Rest in Peace and Crypt Incursion you expect to play against. My opponents had a combined zero copies of those cards, but the Dredge player to my right in round 4 sure looked upset after the second Incursion hit in game 3.

Of course, my goal here was never to build a deck that dominates the format. I just wanted to win this one tournament, and I think I made an exceptional choice.

Some of you who have been around for a while may recognize the next segment. It’s been out of style for a while, but I was inspired by teammate Gabe Carleton-Barnes’s latest PTQ winner report. It’s time for it to make a comeback.


  • Conley Woods. You keep brewing; I’ll keep jamming.
  • Matt McCullough for being pretty much dead on a hundred percent of the time.
  • Nighthowler for being the biggest beast on the block.
  • My Scrooge McDuck vault of "One Times!" I dipped into for many one- or three-outers over the two days.
  • Pack Rat for being so easy to beat with "real" creatures, assuming you think 2BB haste 7/7 is real.
  • Kyle Boggemes for demonstrating that he still is a master.
  • Pam from RIW Hobbies. Sorry I didn’t a chance to add another trophy to the shelf, but I’m glad it still made its way back to Michigan.


  • Jarvis Yu for not showing up to make everyone’s weekend just that much brighter
  • Ben Wienburg, who when asked where to eat in his hometown offered up "Rock Bottom Brewery" and "I don’t know" as the top two choices.
  • Stu Somers for not understanding that sharing a bed with me doesn’t actually mean you will end up sharing the blankets in any fair or reasonable manner.
  • Conley’s plane for bricking his event when he had it on lock.