Deconstructing Constructed – Graveyard Combo in Extended

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It seems so odd to see Extended articles starting to flow out from the various authors here on StarCityGames.com and yet see no listings of Dredge combo. This strikes me as odd considering it basically dictates the fundamental turn of the format, and you’ll most likely get rolled by it game 1 even if you’ve prepared against it. So it seems like one of the more important strategies to consider if you want to seriously prep for Extended… Of course, then Chapin goes and writes a solid article on the threat and the basic ways to trump it. How obnoxious.

It seems so odd to see Extended articles starting to flow out from the various authors here on StarCityGames.com and yet see no listings of Dredge combo. This strikes me as odd considering it basically dictates the fundamental turn of the format, and you’ll most likely get rolled by it game 1 even if you’ve prepared against it. So it seems like one of the more important strategies to consider if you want to seriously prep for Extended.

… Of course, then Chapin goes and writes a solid article on the threat and the basic ways to trump it. How obnoxious. Well, too late to cry about spilled milk now… today we’ll be looking at Dredge and Breakfast combo as the fastest combo decks in the format and a look at a funny MODO metagame hate deck.

Dredge Combo

The three main things to keep in mind with Dredge combo are:

1. Even if Dredge craps all over itself, it still has two other games to wreck you.

People seem to think because you might mull a few games into oblivion that somehow the deck is really inconsistent. Of course this isn’t true, but people tend to remember the blowouts rather than the questionable hands you may or may not have wanted to mulligan in the first place and never go back to see “what if…”

I find that, especially with a deck as linear as Dredge, it’s very good to write keep extensive track of what hands you end up mulling. This is especially true whenever you play post-board, because one only has to go look at some of the premier events on MTGO to see whiny Dredge players because they kept great game 1 hands that roll over and die to board hate.

Obviously it was only because they didn’t draw Chain of Vapor in time. Obvobvobv, Awkward.

2. Dredge has a very good chance to kill you before you can do anything game 1 if it gets a good draw.

I know, not a shock to some people, but often for those who haven’t really kept up with the format the speed in which they can lose is just astonishing. The fact is Dredge’s main draw in the new Extended is that it does get enough turn 2 kills that you can regularly count on them. If not turn 2, then turn 3, which trumps all other decks non-god draws. Think about it for a moment… what can a deck like U/W Tron or Psychatog do to a Dredge deck on the play? On the draw? The decision tree is very limited in what a control player can do.

Aggro doesn’t have it much better as it can’t hold up against large Grave-Trolls, and really the only benefit is it can take advantage of Leyline of the Void and Mogg Fanatic to slow the Dredge plan down better than the slower decks. Realistically, a decent Dredge hand is just going to get at least a 10/10 or bigger Troll out with 2-3 Ichorids looking to come back. Best case you only have to fight a few enablers plus Zombie tokens, but that only goes for the slower Deep Analysis plus heavier mana builds.

If you took Flash out of the picture in Vintage, Dredge combo would be the most consistent fast combo deck left in the format. So think of that kind of speed in a format that doesn’t have a restricted list, and where the de-facto best aggro deck is Five-Color Zoo. You can see why people might be drawn to such a deck.

3. The amount of success you have against the deck is almost linked entirely to quality and amount of grave hate cards you use.

If you run Leyline of the Void and have a solid game plan that either kills the opponent or takes the game over by turn 4 or 5, you can take games 2 and 3 without too many headaches. If you want to go overkill and do Trinket Mage plus Tormod’s Crypt along with counters to stall single Dread Returns, or run enough bounce to take care of Grave-Troll, you’ve got a real shot at doing well. Resolve Solitary Confinement and Sterling Grove and you have roughly ten years to win the game before they find double Chain of Vapor. There are plenty of ways to make it difficult for the Dredge player to actually win the game, but the key is not getting sacked out in games 2 or 3 by a lucky draw.

In addition there’s also the question of mulligans against the Dredge deck. Many players are willing to drop to four or five cards to find Leyline of the Void on turn 0. However this can be a pyrrhic victory if the Dredge opponent is prepared and has Chain of Vapor ready to go. You can’t overly rely on the three step black Leyline plan*, because it can lead you to games where your giving the game away if you don’t hit Leyline early or if they have a slower hand that you could’ve played your seven cards against. Of course it’s a gamble either way, but it seems like people get a little too jumpy online, especially if they haven’t practiced against the deck much.

*The Leyline plan:
Step 1: Board in a set of Leyline of the Void
Step 2: Mulligan until you hit it
Step 3: Windmill slam it into play and go into some sort of choreographed dance routine.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the construction of the deck that hasn’t been talked about, but we’ll just recap the basics real fast. If you’re playing the deck you should have the Cephalid Sage kill, you really want Breakthrough + Tolarian Winds in some numbers, and you want at least six non-Winds enablers that you can lay early and set up your kill turn. Also, if you run Cabal Therapy still and run more than one Sage or Flame-Kin Zealot, consider Protean Hulk. The card basically functions as a virtual second copy of Sage or Flame-Kin and if you have Therapy backing Dread Return. It’s rare that you’ll be in a situation where you want to recur but can’t end the game or sacrifice it ASAP to finish. At worst it trumps running the second Flame-Kin that many of the online builds are running under most circumstances.

As for the sideboard, my main suggestion is the running of more than 4 Chain of Vapor as Leyline defense. Any sort of extra bounce or enchantment removal will get the job done. If not, just be careful when considering what hands to keep, you don’t exactly have a ton of search options with the deck once the graveyard is eliminated from the equation. Basically, if you can handle Leyline, that only leaves Yixlid Jailer and Tormod’s Crypt as other cards that see a decent amount of board play and need to be dealt with. Pithing Needle takes care of Crypt with no problem, and currently the Jailer is the least popular option, so that’s the one you can typically ignore and just leave Chain to deal with. Otherwise a few Darkblast would be the obvious answer if his popularity picked up in response to sideboard answers aimed at the other parts of the trio.

Although the possibility of a transformational board exists, I’ve yet to see an effective one pop up on MTGO or in testing. But if there is a solid one, I’m guessing we’ll see it as we get closer to the PT. For me, I just want to know if it runs Tarmogoyf.

Breakfast Combo

To save some time from explaining, I’m just going to direct you to Kyle Sanchez’s article if you want a quick course on the basic kill / concepts of the deck. Otherwise I’m assuming everyone has a basic clue of what I’m talking about and go over the two main versions I’ve seen thrown around gauntlets. The first version basically relies entirely on tutors like Eladamri’s Call, Living Wish, and Steelshaper’s Gift; with some variations also running Sensei’s Divining Top. The basic idea is just to fetch out Cephalid Illusionist and Shuko ASAP, with the potential for turn 2 kills off Birds of Paradise and Chrome Mox. The same old basic kill is Dread Return on Sutured Ghoul powering it up via Tarmogoyfs* sitting in the yard.

*For reference:
“Q: In recent event coverage for the Legacy format I have seen Cephalid Breakfast decklists with Sutured Ghoul as finisher and only Tarmogoyf as a target for the Ghoul’s trigger. But I can’t see how this works. Shouldn’t Tarmogoyf be a 0/1 creature in all zones other than in play?

A: No. Tarmogofy’s ability that sets its power and toughness is a characteristic-defining ability, or CDA. This ability applies in all zones. This means that a Tarmogoyf card in a graveyard or removed from the game has the same power and toughness as one in play. This is a relatively new change to the Magic rules; it used to be that abilities like Tarmogoyf’s, that set power and toughness, only worked when in play. This change came out this past spring.”

Although it’s a bit less consistent than the Dredge kill, Breakfast has the advantage of being able to easily tutor up an answer for a hate card sitting in play via its various creature tutors. Breakfast can also go into an imitation of a bad aggro deck and just beat down with Tarmogoyf and En-Kors all day while using Cabal Therapy, and possibly Counterbalance / Remand / Delay, depending on the list, to buy time. For the lists that run Steelshaper’s Gift, some have gone so far as to throw in an Umezawa’s Jitte as an additional tutor target for the beatdown route.

The second version of Breakfast I’ve seen floating around is basically just Breakfast with Solitary Confinement thrown in along with a single Squee, Goblin Nabob to just go into a lock against decks like RDW or Domain Zoo where the combo is under significant burn pressure. In a way, you get to completely duck those matches, because finding the Squee is incredibly easy via Call or Wish, which means you just have to sack into one of your set of Confinements by turn 4 via Top. Rough I’m sure, especially when you still have Tarmogoyf to help with a ground stall. Of course if they try to tap out and outright race you, they risk getting comboed by the Illusionist kill, so it’s a Catch 22 for most versions.

Once again, the general speed of the deck leaves your opponent up a creek if he doesn’t have any answers to you on turn 2. The slight trade-off in consistency and heavier vulnerability to burn gives you a wider variety of options in getting your combo off in the first place in the face of Leylines and other sorts of graveyard hate. Although both this deck and Dredge have some notable weaknesses, both require the proper respect and prep-work unless you just want to get rolled before you had a single play.

Green White Pretty Hate Machine

One of the more unique aggro decks floating around on MTGO at the moment is a G/W aggro build that basically just hates on every deck ever invented. The deck itself actually reminds me of Stax with Green and White disruption cards replacing artifact lock pieces. Such disruption includes: Root Maze, Chalice of the Void, Trinisphere, Suppression Field, and others. All this hate gives what could be considered a basic dumb G/W creature strategy real game against non-interactive decks like TEPS and company.

Even decks like Breakfast have to respect the deck to some extent, because a card like Root Maze can slow the deck to a crawl. Remember that not only does the fetchland come into play tapped, but whatever it fetches as well, which means it’s a minimum of two turns before you see any mana from one of them. Considering most decks manabases include six to ten fetches, this is a major impediment unless you have a very specific draw or are a single color deck.

Although I didn’t see too much in the way of anti-aggro cards in SOS Brigade’s (I swear I didn’t plant that just for a Haruhi reference, go check MTGO) version of the deck that made Top 8 at a few premier events, he still had Hierarch and Exalted Angel. Not to mention the options are abundant if you want to expand the focus of the deck; Zoo and Boros have real issues with cards like Loxodon Hierarch, Silver Knight, or Troll Ascetic when backed by Armadillo Cloak or Worship. I think for a metagame such as MTGO’s right now, a G/W deck that’s metagamed to beat up on the majority of decks (either aggro or combo at this point) and simply boarding in for the rest seems like a fine option. The metagame isn’t exactly 100% stable, but the majority of the Top 8’s are dominated by combo that’s inherently unstable against disruption like Trinisphere, Glowrider, and Root Maze, or aggro / aggro-control decks with heavy doses of Red. Although there are still Tron and Tog decks kicking around, they seem to be rarities in a growing field of combo and aggro packing anti-combo boards.

General Thoughts

The advantage of playing a slower less impressive aggressive deck like G/W is you can just steamroll all the Red decks if they don’t get off to amazing starts due to the power of your overall cards. Most of the good aggro decks at the moment are running more off synergy and Tarmogoyf rather than significantly better threats than what we have for answers. Of course that isn’t to say control is totally wrecked here. Fire/Ice, Lightning Helix, and Smother are still very good at handling swarms of creatures, and soft-locks like Counterbalance and Isochron Scepter still exist to abuse.

Really, the main difference between the last two seasons or so and before seems to be how many threats require specific answers or spot removal to deal with them versus being able to hang back and abuse Wrath of God and other broad sweepers. As others have pointed out, if you aren’t being proactive to some extent and if your cards aren’t helping you gain card advantage in a cheap way, odds are you’ll be swarmed to death before you can accomplish your the main control plan.

And that’s all for now. Next week I may go over more Vintage considering we now have the SCG: Indy results, or I may stay on Extended depending on what everyone else covers this week.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom