How To Beat Dredge And Win SCG Dallas

Four Dredge decks in the Top 16 of a Modern Challenge? Owen Turtenwald has seen this movie, and he’s ready to flip the script! A must-read ahead of SCG Dallas!

Modern can be one of the hardest formats to prepare for, since it’s constantly changing from week to week. Therefore, I try to place a larger importance on recent results than I sometimes do for Standard where I might pick a deck simply because I like it or because I believe it’s undervalued. I’d also like to point out that I give results that happen on Magic Online added credence.

Yes, Magic Online has bugs and occasionally the sharps decide not to play because there’s a larger tournament happening somewhere in real life, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s no cheating on Magic Online and the average skill per player on the program is higher than in real life. You must have mastery over your deck, the rules, and the program to navigate one of these top-level events where your opponents become progressively more skilled the deeper you get into a tournament.

When I first got into Magic, all I did was play Magic Online to improve my game and it worked. You simply cannot cut corners when competing on Magic Online; you must perform. I’ve never met someone who won a Magic Online PTQ who I didn’t consider an expert player and highly intelligent human.

Last weekend on Magic Online, there was a Modern Challenge and the most surprising result to me was the four Dredge decks in the Top 16. Among them were sixteen copies of Creeping Chill maindeck.

When I first laid eyes on Creeping Chill, I immediately acknowledged it as a Limited trap, since it’s so unlikely I would end up with enough Surveil that I would benefit from the free value and a four-mana burn spell to the face doesn’t fit at all in what House Dimir considers important in Guilds of Ravnica Limited. I seriously question the judgment of Play Design who seem to have intentionally had Blood Operative trigger off Surveil and Creeping Chill trigger 100% of the time it would travel from your library to your graveyard; it seems unintuitive to distinguish between two similar effects and to power-level push one and try to cap the other. As expected, people pushed the limits of science and put Creeping Chill right into Modern Dredge and they seemed to have won a bunch of matches as a result.

It can be difficult to understand the power of unique cards like this, but one thought exercise I learned from Reid Duke is to imagine how a game might play out with one of these cards and try to best map the likelihood of a positive or negative result. This may seem like an odd comparison, but both Terminus and Creeping Chill are poor in your opening hand and benefit greatly from being flipped off the top of the deck at the opportune time, so how often do they end up stuck in your hand and how often do they generate the sick topdeck moments? The answer to that question is, actually, another question – how long does your average game last and how much influence do you have over that favorable outcome?

If I have Terminus in a booster draft, my opening hand is seven cards, and my average game length is ten turns, more often than not if I only see one Terminus in a game, it will be drawn more often than it will be stranded in my opening hand. Modern Azorius Control decks that play multiple copies of Terminus try to break the symmetry with Opt, a spell that costs one mana and gives you multiple opportunities to see Terminus. In addition to Opt, they have Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which breaks all the rules and just stacks Terminus right on top of the deck.

I don’t think this information is groundbreaking, but it does help us better understand deckbuilding and it can influence in-game decisions. I feel more confident in a game with this knowledge because I have some control over the average game length, allowing me more opportunities to see the cards I desire. It’s that fuzzy feeling you get when you play to your outs and hit, something most people think is luck but that you’ve been setting up the entire time. This line of thinking also helps us understand why something like Thunderous Wrath will never be worth playing in Legacy Burn: the math and rate on the card are simply too poor.

Creeping Chill in Dredge similarly breaks all the rules. Your average opening hand is clearly less than seven cards with regularity, as this style of deck benefits the most from the scry-mulligan rule. Once your deck begins to function as intended, you replace all instances of “draw a card” with “dredge X,” ensuring that at no point when Creeping Chill is seen that it will be a dead card. In an ideal game, Dredge has complete and total influence over its draw step. If things go well, Dredge can have a life total advantage of 32 to eight. Seems all right to me.

Hilariously, the winning deck from the Modern Challenge was Death’s Shadow. I can’t help but think it’s not a coincidence that all the random incidental life loss didn’t completely backfire for Dredge players as they faced down enormous Death’s Shadows coming down earlier than intended.

If you’re playing black in Modern, I was already highly recommending registering four copies of Leyline of the Void, but with the prevalence of Dredge, this is truer now than it has ever been. This was always stock for me in my Hollow One lists and I would often audibly groan when seeing lists that tried to fit everything they liked at the expense of the third or fourth Leyline. Not only is Hollow One at a bigger disadvantage against graveyard decks than normal, but it also benefits from red card manipulation that allows you to draw new cards and potentially discard dead cards, so even in your worst-case scenario of drawing Leyline of the Void off the top, some of the time you still trade it in for a new card.

It’s also a common trend how underrated Leyline of the Void is. I think it’s the best card you can play in the Hollow One mirror, it warps the Dredge matchup, it’s extremely effective against Bedlam Reveler decks since they’re subtly very reliant on the graveyard, and it’s my favorite hate card against Ironworks.

If I had to play a Modern tournament to decide the fate of humanity, I would prepare heavily with a few decks in mind: Humans, Burn, Mono-Green Tron, Hollow One, Dredge, Jeskai Control, and Ironworks. That being said, I believe the resurgence of Dredge will make Burn and Hollow One weaker choices, since Dredge is inherently advantaged against Hollow One. I also feel Creeping Chill is enough value to flip the Dredge vs. Burn matchup in favor of Dredge, as I wouldn’t want to play Goblin Guide and Lava Spike in a field of people who mill zero-casting cost Lightning Helixes off the top of their deck for free each turn.

With all of this in mind, I decided to take a step back and reconsider one of my favorite decks in recent memory – Tron. One of my articles I’m proudest of is this evergreen Tron primer. I reread it recently and realized that the metagame that’s shaping up for SCG Dallas may actually be perfect for Tron with a small splash:

Burn is your worst matchup, which I expect to be underrepresented because of its weak matchup against the new hot choice in Dredge. I don’t even think Burn is close to as bad as it has been historically just because Timely Reinforcements and Thragtusk are some of the most high-impact cards in the history of Magic against red decks. Every bit of love and adoration I poured on Leyline of the Void can be matched for Rest in Peace. I like my Dredge matchup with Tron as-is, but now I have an extra Relic of Progenitus in the maindeck and Rest in Peace as the nuclear option after sideboarding.

For the longest time, I’ve waffled back and forth between Hollow One and Tron as my deck of choice for Modern. I believe that they’re both phenomenal decks and that if you’re not playing one or the other, you’re making a sizable error. It’s complicated by the fact that Hollow One is a huge favorite over Tron and Tron is a huge favorite over all the decks in the field that are supposed to beat Hollow One. This new white version, however, may be positioned well enough where Rest in Peace and Timely Reinforcements tip the scales in Tron’s favor.

There’s also a phenomenon that exists where players are disproportionately likely to show up with decks and cards that are new rather than tested and proven. For that reason, I expect more copies of Creeping Chill and Assassin’s Trophy at SCG Dallas this weekend than I would at your average Modern tournament. Selesnya Tron is usually a favorite against Golgari-based midrange decks and it is possible Assassin’s Trophy will help them in some capacity, but at the end of the day, that card will always be a two-mana instant that results in card disadvantage. It’s easy to get distracted by Turn 3 Karn Liberated or Turn 3 kills that Dredge decks can have and forget we’re still playing Magic and card disadvantage is extremely bad.

One of the reasons I’m drawn to this version of Tron is because of how seamlessly it can transform into the control role by using Oblivion Stone as a sweeper and win at its leisure with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. If you were especially worried about Golgari-based midrange decks, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility to consider Nullhide Ferox as a trump card to Liliana of the Veil. Obstinate Baloth is an existing option, which isn’t quite as strong as I would like, but Nullhide Ferox is much larger and has hexproof, so it could be a game-winning card all on its own.

I always get a little nervous when I see Dredge have a strong result. It wasn’t that long ago that they banned Golgari Grave-Troll, and when Dredge is the best deck, the format becomes unfun very quickly. As a hardcore professional player, it may seem odd for me to remark on what’s fun, but we’re all still playing a game, and healthy gameplay breeds interaction, which makes a game fun. Nobody wants to play against Dredge every single round and win or lose based on the strength of their sideboard hate card.

My advice to Modern players this weekend at SCG Dallas: don’t show up unprepared for Dredge. I not only added an entire color to my beloved Tron list, but I did so purposefully so that I could have three copies of Rest in Peace and three copies of Relic of Progenitus to destroy that deck!

No more fun and games, Dredge players. We can all see you and what you’re trying to do to Modern, and if I have anything to say about it, your reign of terror is over.