Legacy’s Allure – Bloodghast Dredge with Matthew Bartlett

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Tuesday, October 20th – This week, Doug interviews the third-place finisher at last week’s StarCityGames.com $5000 Legacy tournament in Philadelphia. Matthew played Bloodghast Dredge, a new take on a familiar Legacy deck that featured the new Vampire from Zendikar. The interview explores the advantages of this Dredge build over typical lists and discusses Matthew’s unorthodox sideboarding techniques. Check out the newest and techiest Dredge in this week’s Legacy’s Allure!

This week, I am very pleased to bring you an interview with Matthew Bartlett, who recently made third place at the StarCityGames.com Philadelphia $5000 Legacy tournament. He brought Bloodghast Dredge, an innovative new take on a familiar strategy. Check it out:

In this interview, I talked with Matthew extensively about why he built the deck the way he did and why Bloodghast is worth running over Ichorid, even though it slows the deck down. We talked about sideboarding, which is one of the most important parts of playing Dredge, and what his tournament experience was like this past weekend. My questions are in bold and Matthew’s responses are in normal typeface.

The first, and most obvious thing about your list, is the Bloodghasts. Initial online discussions about them rated them pretty weakly; why did you go ahead and test them anyway?

I think that you can’t take other peoples thoughts on new cards for granted. It’s not likely many people actually build and test with those cards. I feel I have as good of a skill at judging cards with
theory as most players, but I wanted to get real practical evidence. In theory, Bloodghast is mediocre. In practice, the card has some advantages over Ichorid that I like. I would have never seen those
advantages without playing a few games with him.

Why are Bloodghasts better than Ichorid, or for that matter, Ashen Ghouls or Nether Shadows?

Ashen Ghoul and Nether Shadow have to have three creatures above them to bring them back, making both rather restrictive and unsustainable long term. Also, Ashen Ghoul requires precious mana, and Nether Shadow is the weakest power wise of any of the choices. This, I think, makes them clearly worse than Ichorid or Bloodghast. It’s really a close race between Ichorid and Bloodghast, at least when you’re not running Lion’s Eye Diamond. Ichorid is a bit slower, because you return him to play during the upkeep before you’ve dredged for the turn. Bloodghast is weaker by 1 power and doesn’t have haste until late in the game. This is very relevant when you consider the popularity of Wild Nacatl, Kird Ape, and various Merfolk lords.

I chose Bloodghast because of how varied Legacy is as a format. Ichorid is clearly superior in some match-ups. In testing I focused on Zoo, Merfolk, and Counterbalance Threshold. Merfolk is, by far, the hardest match-up of the three for Dredge. Counterbalance is in Dredge’s favor, but not by a large margin. Zoo is heavily favored by Dredge. Ichorid was better against Merfolk, but the added speed gave Bloodghast an even greater advantage against Counterbalance and Zoo. With just these data, I would have still chosen Ichorid to strengthen my weakest match-up. But, like I said, Legacy is a highly varied format. At a tournament the size of the Philadelphia event, I knew I would see more than those 3 decks and figured I would see other decks more than I would see those three combined. So, I wanted the deck to be better against all comers. Bloodghast seems marginally better against everything except tempo Blue decks like Merfolk and Canadian Threshold. If you’re going into a smaller tournament and expect those decks to make up a significant segment of the meta-game, I would suggest Ichorid.

You’ve picked Tireless Tribe over Putrid Imp, getting a better defensive creature in exchange for the weaknesses of a rainbow manabase. Could you talk about why you chose the Tribe instead of the Imp?

Putrid Imp combines with Ichorid quite nicely. Not only can it be exiled to bring Ichorid back, it also makes for a good attacker when you need to go the beatdown route. With Bloodghast, I’m less willing to turn beatdown. It seems better to have a great blocker who can stall the game until I can Dread Return something to win the game. With Bloodghast, I’m already running 4 Undiscovered Paradise (to enable Landfall), and will probably run some combination of Gemstone Mine and City of Brass in order to play Ancient Grudge out of the sideboard, or rare instances where I want to hard cast Golgari Grave-Troll. These lands produce 5 colors already, so going up to the fifth color didn’t really play into the decision.

Your list does not run Lion’s Eye Diamond; why did you opt out of it? How does the loss of one of Legacy’s most busted cards affect the speed of your deck?

Lion’s Eye Diamond does speed up the deck a lot, but at the cost of consistency. Some hardcore dredge players claim this is not the case, and maybe they’re right, but from my perspective, there were a lot more unkeepable hands with the deck when I ran the artifact. This was especially true after sideboarding, when the lower number of land became very painful. In the end, I chose a compromise, a balance between the speed of the LED version and the consistency of the Non-LED Ichorid version.

Why did you choose Cephalid Sage over Sphinx of Lost Truths, a card that’s objectively better?

Once I’ve resolved a Dread Return targeting either Cephalid Sage or Sphinx of Lost Truths, I expect to win with one of my other specialized Dread Return targets. So, the extra power/toughness and flying didn’t really factor into the choice for me. The more relevant difference is that Sage discards one less card, and needs Threshold in order to trigger. For a deck running Ichorid, keeping another card would almost never matter. However, with Bloodghast, you want some number of Dakmor Salvage. Now, it’s a rare occurrence to Dread Return Sage or Sphinx without at least one card already in hand, but with Breakthrough, it does happen. So the question became: what is more likely, Dread Returning that draw creature without any cards in hand, or having three creatures and wanting to Dread Return that draw creature without threshold? In testing, the former came up more (the latter never came up).

Did you ever want a large-scale dredge enabler card like Tolarian Winds?

It would have been nice, but there are just so few slots to work with. Careful Study is better for drawing into sideboard cards. Breakthrough can be played for 1, which is very relevant, and Tireless Tribe gives the deck a lot of consistency that I wouldn’t want to sacrifice for the speed added by Tolarian Winds.

While a lot of Dredge lists have dropped a copy or two of Cabal Therapy, you’ve got all four. Does the presence of Bloodghast make resolving the sorcery more reliable?

For the same reason that Bloodghast is faster than Ichorid – you can flashback Cabal Therapy earlier and more reliably. Regardless, I think any less than 4 Cabal Therapy is probably wrong. It is very helpful in creating an early Dread Return because it allows you to multiply your creatures with enough Bridge From Belows in your graveyard. It’s also nearly as effective as Unmask or Thoughtseize because there is a limited number of relevant cards that opponents play against you that actually matter, especially in the first game. If you are running either of those two cards over a full set of Cabal Therapy, this is clearly wrong. Also, it can also be used to target yourself in order to discard a card with dredge and still gains value later when it’s flashed back.

Were the Undiscovered Paradises as insane as they look for triggering Landfall?

Yes! They were pretty awesome at triggering landfall. You have to be more careful of Wasteland with them, because hands that look awesome because of the ability to recur Bloodghast with Undiscovered can be wrecked by Wasteland.

Did you encounter situations where a Vindicate effect, like Angel of Despair or Woodfall Primus, would have won a game that you lost?

I don’t remember if it would have won me the game, but either of those cards would have been useful against 42 lands and against Stax. My current build of the deck runs 1 Woodfall Primus and 1 more Force of Will instead of the Ancient Grudges in the sideboard.

Those Force of Wills in the sideboard look pretty crazy; what did you sideboard them out for? What are targets worthy of the counterspell post-board?

Force of Will was amazing for me. They usually came in for Tireless Tribe, but it depends on the match-up. They are good against hate cards other than Leyline of theVoid, and especially good against slower ones like Loaming Shaman. It also gives you chance against combo decks like Ad Nauseam Tendrils and Goblin Charbelcher. Further, certain decks rely on 1 or 2 cards to stay in the game. For instance, 42 lands needs to resolve Exploration or Manabond to be able keep up with your speed. White Stax relies on Ghostly Prison, Trinisphere, or Crucible of Worlds plus Wasteland to keep up. Force slows the deck down because you’ll often have to pitch an enabler like careful Study or Breakthrough, so it’s not a fix all, but if your opponent is slow enough without a key card, it’s worth bringing in. You don’t want to waste Force of Will on something like Tarmogoyf if you don’t have to, and you don’t want to bring it in against faster decks where more specific anti-hate cards can do a better job.

(Matthew has also expressed that he wanted to go to four Force of Will in his sideboard for the future.)

Ravenous Trap is hyped pretty strongly as a dredge hoser; did you fear it going into this event? What about the future?

Ravenous Trap was the original reason for sideboarding Force of Will. Unmask could have filled this role, but it’s not as good at doing all the things I listed above.

What’s the nightmare scenario of hate cards from the opponent?

A smart player will sideboard against Dredge with variety and at unintuitive angles. The hardest part of playing Dredge is knowing what to sideboard, so why make it easier? If you’re playing Affinity, I’m going to assume you’re going to bring in some number of Tormod’s Crypt and/or Relic of Progenitus. I’ll sideboard in Pithing Needle. If you, instead, bring in 1 Ravenous Trap, 1 Extirpate, and 1 Yixlid Jailer, then I just watered down my combo for nothing. You lose some synergy, but that is well worth being less predictable. Non-Black decks will have a harder time doing this, but they could still bring in Tormod’s crypt , Relic of Progenitus, and one Ravenous Trap. Leyline of the Void is the hardest sideboard card to answer, but it is also most inconsistent. If you are going to bring in Leyline, bring in 4.

How well prepared for Dredge did your opponents seem? Did they play well against it and did they seem to board adequate hate cards?

The hate cards were pretty low in total. I think if you played Dredge in the tournament and didn’t do well, you were either very unlucky or played very poorly. A few players punted games against me that they had chances to win. Chris Woltereck specifically made a play that lost him our third game in our first match. He activated a fetchland at 11 life, going to 10, giving my Bloodghasts haste. I’m sure he kicked himself pretty hard for that, because otherwise he was a much better technical player than myself.

(Bloodghast continues the “ten life matters” theme of Hidetsugu’s Second Rite!)

What are your general sideboarding strategies? What cards are the first to come out?

Sideboarding is really tough. I don’t have set plans. If you expect a certain type of hate, you bring in a certain type of anti-hate. In case it’s not obvious, Tireless Tribe is worse against Merfolk, Counterbalance, and ANT, while Therapy and Careful Study/Breakthrough aren’t as good against Zoo, and 42 Lands. Regardless, I hardly ever sideboard out all of one thing. The only thing I know for sure is that against Blue, you take out Flame-Kin Zealot for an extra Sadistic Hypnotist, and against non-Blue aggro, you take out the main deck Sadistic Hypnotist for Ancestor’s Chosen. Against 42 Lands, discard is pretty worthless, so I dropped 2 Cabal Therapy and the Sadistic Hypnotist. If I had Woodfall Primus, I would have brought that in. Instead, it was Force of Will and some number of Pithing Needles to name Wasteland.

How do you determine whether it’s better to bring in the Chain of Vapor (for cards like Leyline) or Pithing Needle (for Crypts) in the second game if you haven’t seen much of the opponent’s deck the first game? That seems like one of the biggest “reads” to make for a Dredge player.

Like I said, it’s the hardest part of playing Dredge. Leyline is less popular, probably because it needs to be in hand at the start of the game to be effective, so I default to Pithing Needle. This changes against decks like Eva Green, which are much more likely to bring in Leyline or Jailers. Tireless Tribe is the most likely to come out, because it’s less powerful and not blue, but it’s match-up dependent.

What’s the nightmare match for Dredge?

White Stax is extremely hard for any non-LED dredge deck. It has to many ways to slow you down and lock down the game, making LED’s extra speed is extremely relevant. Merfolk, despite the fact that I beat it twice in the swiss, is not pleasant. Some of the older mono-Blue lists with Relic of Progenitus in the main are extremely scary, and Umezewa’s Jitte can be potent in Merfolk where it’s backed up by counterspells and Cursecatcher. The only good thing about the match-up is how dead Standstill is in game 1.

Did you have a game where you lost, even though you thought you had things sealed up?

I can’t think of any times this happened on my end, but it happened for my opponents. This almost always involved me stopping a backbreaking play with either Force of Will or double Force of Will.

You mentioned before when we talked that you included two Dakmoor Salvage to make sure you had lands to trigger Landfall; how did you arrive at the number of two?

Simple trial and error. When I didn’t have any in, I found myself needing to topdeck a land too often. When I added one, I sometimes wanted a second, especially if one was in my opening hand and I didn’t have a turn 1 play, making it better to play the Salvage than my other land. With two in, it was very rare that I would want another, so it wasn’t worth watering down the deck any more.

Do you expect more Dredge hate on sideboards, thanks to this deck and the good showing of Dredge at GenCon?

Maybe, it’s hard to say. It may have done well, but that doesn’t mean packing more hate is necessarily right. If the deck is only doing well for the few people who are playing it, then it’s not worth playing too much board hate, especially if the match is already very bad. You want to focus on the decks that make up the majority of the room. Even if Dredge is going to do well, if there are a small number of people playing it, you’re not likely to play against that deck. If you’re not likely to play against Dredge in the swiss, why lower your chances to make it through the swiss by packing hate? If more people start playing the deck, then it will be correct. With other kinds of decks, success usually correlates with increased popularity for a deck. With combo decks, this can go either way. Sometimes if a combo deck does well, people still don’t switch to it, but sometimes hordes of people do. Also, combo players are less likely to stick to their deck than control and aggro players. All and all it’s just too hard to predict.

Matthew’s deck is powerful and consistent. Because it skips out on the Lion’s Eye Diamonds, it’s relatively easy for newcomers to the format to put together (aside from the Force of Wills in the sideboard!). Since the Dredge hate is low in number and can be played around, the deck will retain its potency in Legacy for a long time. Thanks to Matthew for an excellent interview!

Until next week…

Doug Linn

legacysallure at gmail dot com