The Chump Block – Almost Getting There: A PTQ Top 8

Grand Prix: Oakland!

Friday, January 22nd – I woke up on the Friday morning before the Chicago PTQ still undecided on what deck I wanted to play. On the drive back from the Indy PTQ, I had talked up the positive sides of playing Martyr to my friend, who was looking for a deck that had good matchups against a field of Scapeshift and Zoo…

I woke up on the Friday morning before the Chicago PTQ still undecided on what deck I wanted to play. On the drive back from the Indy PTQ, I had talked up the positive sides of playing Martyr to my friend who was looking for a deck that had good matchups against a field of Scapeshift and Zoo; however, due to the recently well-publicized success that FFfreak had earned at the same TWO consecutive online PTQs, there were dozens of articles being written online days before the event. Because of that, playing Martyr seemed like a really bad idea, as people who were also reading the same articles were either a) playing Martyr themselves, which would lead to a whole lotta very long boring games, or b) playing decks that were tuned to beat Martyr, or at the very least, packing plenty of sideboarded hate for the deck. As it would turn out, there were in fact droves of people playing the Wb deck, and I was able to trade some previously worthless Moonlit Bargains that I had cleverly brought (based on the insight of a friend) for some choice rares, as none of the dealers had brought the crap rare that was touted as instrumental to the deck

I ended up deciding to play Dredge for several reasons. I had been unable to play offline with any deck at all during the week, but had been doing quite well in the online queues, making it to the finals often enough to be satisfied. It is a very complicated deck, but with plenty of practice, I felt like it was far and away one of the most powerful decks in the format. The “hate” that people were packing is so easy to play around for so many reasons, and having played online with a sideboard that I was 90% happy with, I knew how to circumvent their hate cards. Here’s the decklist that I ended up playing on the tournament and it has a few interesting additions/subtractions from normal dredge lists.

“Where’s the Sphinx?” In all my games of playing online I found myself lumping Sphinx of Lost Truths in the camp of “win-more” cards that I generally don’t have room for. There was rarely an opportunity that Sphinx was the perfect card for me to Dread Return back. If I already had a sizably stocked graveyard then it was almost certainly better to get back a Flame-kin and go for the win. If I had a choice between returning a Sphinx or Iona to play, the giant Angel was almost certainly getting the nod. If it was earlier in the game, and there was only one card with dredge on it in the graveyard, then there was always the risk that I wouldn’t hit another one and/or there weren’t any Bridges in the graveyard into order to make Dread Return turn a Zombie profit. I cut the Sphinx about mid-week, and never looked back.

I also dropped the number of Glimpses down to three, as four always felt like it was too many. I never really wanted to draw more than one Glimpse as, while they were pretty good at getting a huge chunk of the library into the graveyard, they don’t do much of anything else. Ideas Unbound can pretty nuts by dredging huge amounts of cards into the bin, and even Hedron Crab can act as a chump blocker or Rusalka fodder in a pinch. I needed to make room for a card I was adding, and I wasn’t particularly sad to make it one of the Glimpses.

I’m usually not too terribly adamant about poopooing any particular builds, but I see a lot of Dredge decklists running zero Darkblasts and that just seems to me to be straight up wrong. First and foremost, resolving a Dread Return is often the key to ending the game in many game one matchups, and having zero answers to a resolved Gaddock Teeg or Meddling Mage means you have a MUCH more difficult time winning that matchup. You are pretty much on the “hope this Drowned Rusalka can make enough Zombies for me to win” plan, and if they have a way to remove most of your Bridges from the game, well that’s usually it. Secondly, Darkblast is an incredible card in its own right as some decks have a very hard time dealing with it. Yes, if you are killing their creatures then your Bridges are going bye-bye, but if you use some common sense it’s really not that hard to minimize the impact. Secondly, they deal with a ton of other permanents giving you infinitely more time to build up a Zombie army. The ability to deal with a Vendilion Clique, Dark Confidant, Steppe Lynx, Hexmage, etc. is incredible. In a pinch it can be used to axe of your own Narcomoebas or Bloodghasts in order to get some zombies. I wouldn’t ever consider not playing with at least two maindeck, especially since Elves! seems to be the new up-and-coming deck du jour.

Dryad Arbor may look like an awkward card, and it is if you draw it, but several games I would usually be praying to myself “don’t mill the Arbor!” It turns an awkward or otherwise boring old fetchland into a mighty 1/1 killing machine, and can often be the 3rd creature you need to be able to cast Dread Return. I have also more than a few times Dread Returned a Dryad Arbor, saccing my Bloodghasts, in order to trigger the (now) multiple Bloodghasts in my graveyard and make 6 or so Zombies at no cost.

The very last card I added to the deck was on Saturday morning when I reluctantly bought a Dakmor Salvage (foil, because why else would anyone bring that card?) and it was great all day. Online there were several times when I wished I was running one in my deck because I desperately needed to draw a land, usually just for the Bloodghast’s landfall ability. It also let me feel comfortable only running one Life from the Loam.

As for the sideboard, I was very happy with the sideboard I had online except for the Leyline of the Voids. Extirpate just seemed to be to be just a more versatile card that still did a solid job against Dredge so it got the nod here in real life. I had been having nothing but success with the Spell Pierces, as they stop so many annoying cards: Blood Moon, Ravenous Trap, even Relic or Tormod’s Crypt if you’re on the play. The only card I was unsure of was Archive Trap as I thought it was a little “too cute,” but really I didn’t have anything else I was dying to stuff into the board, so I kept them.

Here’s how my matches played out.

Round 1: Thopter Combo

Game one was an absolute beating. I was playing more hesitantly than I normally would in the first game of a match, as U/W is one of the few decks that can run a maindeck hoser: a Tormod’s Crypt that can be fetched up via Trinket Mage. As I would find out later, he was playing the Mageless deck so my trepidation was unnecessary, but better safe than sorry.

Game two was akin to how most game 2’s go: I played some dudes, and attacked him with the dudes. He actually played a turn one Relic of Progenitus and a Crypt, but they were no match for my army of Drowned Rusalkas, Narcomoebas, and Bloodghasts. On his turn four or so he tapped out to play Cranial Extraction and I did the “how many Zombies can I make” dance. He tapped his Tormod’s Crypt at a pretty inopportune moment, allowing me to get two additional Zombies, and when all was said and done, I was the mighty captain of 6 Zombies who then attacked him down to a mere 2 life. He had seen my Wipe Away in hand so I was unable to blow him away when he rocked his Explosive on 0, nor could I bounce his Thopter Foundry without him making two Thopters first although he had to sac the Foundry itself for the privilege. I decided to bounce a token and attack him to 1, knowing that he could untap and cast any number of spell to give me a headache, but instead he just extended the hand showing a hand of Cranial and a land.

Round 2: Faeries

Game one does not go well, as I mulligan all the way down to 4 cards. He has a pretty slow opener as well, and eventually I get to the point where I need to decide if I want to just concede and not show him what deck I’m playing, or just try and cast some spells. I, perhaps foolishly, opt for the latter, and he surprisingly doesn’t counter them. It’s actually a game! I have to make a decision at one point as to whether to play around Mistbind Clique or Cryptic Command, so I play my what-would-be-a-giant Grave-Troll precombat so as to not get embarrassed by a Clique. He of course has the counter to tap my team in tandem, and we’re on to game 2.

I’m kicking myself at this point, knowing full well my game 2 would have been much easier had I just conceded without him knowing what I was playing. It’s a moot point as it would turn out, as I have an aggressive hand with Darkblast. For those of you who have never had a Darkblast against Faeries, it is like sipping a nice cool soda on a hot summer day. I tap out to do something at the end of his turn and he slams the Vendilion Clique on the table to nab my Darkblast forever, to which I calmly just dredge the other one in my graveyard. This game ends in quite the interesting race, as he is at 1 life thanks to Bitterblossom, has a Jitte with 1 counter on it, and exactly enough creatures to block all my guys. He’s tapped out however, so my Sophie’s Choice Darkblast means he can’t pump his Jitted creature to prevent it from dying as he’ll die to his Bitterblossom.

Game 3 I make a bizarre mistake on the first turn: laying a land. I realize this immediately afterward, so the next two turns see me discarding the Bloodghasts in my hand (I didn’t have the appropriate mana to cast them at the time) and then playing the awkward Dryad Arbor that I had drawn on the first turn. This is one of the closest games of the tournament for me, as his turn 3 Clique is racing my 5 power worth of guys. He eventually wins it by a hair, as I can only put him to two because of his Mutavault being in the way. He ends up showing me his hand full of nothing, and I kick myself for not doing a million other things that I was avoiding so as not to fall prey to the various traps that Faeries has in the deck.

Round 3: Rubin Zoo

Game one is elementary and Dredge just does what it’s supposed to: bash with a ton of angry Zombies. Game two he won. Where are my notes for this? Game three proved again how awesome Thoughtseize is, as the turn one discard spell reveals a bunch of awesome creatures including double Meddling Mage, Noble Hierarch, double Baneslayer yet only 1 land. I take the Hierarch hoping that he stumbles on mana for a while, to which he reluctantly obliges. I have a slow opener, but the constant stream of 2/1’s and 1/1’s attacking him wear down his life so that when he actually reaches his second land on turn 4 or so he has to start blocking my Bloodghasts… not very effective.

Round 4: Mono White Martyr

I feel sort of bad about these games as I win this match in record time. Game one goes about as well as I could hope for, and I attack him with 20 3/3 Zombies on turn 3. He laments the fact that his anti-Dredge plan was “don’t get paired against Dredge”. Game three he drops a turn three Story Circle on black, a card that could certainly be annoying, but I happen to dredge into a turn 3 Iona that I can Dread Return. I risk it as I doubt he’s running Ravenous Trap based on his earlier comments. He concedes. I have enough time after this match to go walk the 10 minutes through the blistering cold to Subway, return, eat the whole footlong sub, and still have to wait around.

Round 5: Scapeshift

I amass an army of Zombies and Spirits and Illusions pretty quickly, but not as quite as I’d like because it’s clear he has a remand at the ready. He has the ability to go off with 7 lands in play…. except I’ve kept myself at a healthy 19 life. I know he has the Scapeshift after he attacks me with his lone Wood Elf, so when on my turn he goes to Cryptic Command to tap my lethal attack, I dejectedly ask if he’s bouncing his Elf. After a moment of thinking he decides that yes, he would like to do that. I proceed to sac a creature to Drowned Rusalka, dredge back my Darkblast, and kill his Wood Elf, all while keeping a black mana open so he can’t Remand or Condescend it. Bonk!

Game 2 has to be the silliest game I’ve played in a while. I decided it was time to see if my sideboarded Archive Traps could, in fact, “get there” and I board them in along with Thoughtsiezes and Extirpates. My opening hand is 4 lands, Archive Trap, Glimpse the Unthinkable, and Extirpate. When my first draw is Hedron Crab, I laugh as I know there’s no way I can possibly lose this game. He plays a Tribe-Elder turn 2, and my first-turn Crab and Glimpse proceed to mill him for 16. When he searches out a forest with his third turn Wood Elf I can hardly contain my glee as I Archive Trap him. After I play my third land, I have successfully milled him for 35 cards. I Thoughtseize him, see a hand of Ravenous Traps, Quash and Peer Through Depths, I Extirpate his Cryptic Commands to see what surprises he might have, and it turns out that there’s none! He has about 9 turns to win with the 6 1/1s left in his deck! My guys chump block his guys, and I am so satisfied having accomplished the ridiculous task of milling my opponent to death in extended.

Round 6: Dredge

Game one is a perfect example of those games where it seems impossible to win, but you still do. I carefully timed my Drowned Rusalka activation to deny him many Zombies, but unfortunately his Dread Returned Sphinx of Lost Truths dredges about half his deck, enough to find himself an Iona that he can then Dread Return setting it to black, all on turn 4 I believe. On my next turn I dredge past several Bridges, and his subsequent attack with both of his large flyers turns out to be incredibly unprofitable tough, as I block both big creatures with my gossamer Narcomoebas, sacrifice my Drowned Rusalka to discard a Bridge, and when the ‘moebas die I end up with 11 Zombies, enough to kill him on my turn. In order to survive he Glimpses himself to find the final Dread Return in the deck and is able to get a sizable Grave-Troll and 6 more zombies. I Ideas on bound on my turn and opt to simply draw, hoping to get the one of my few outs that can win the game for me. I draw one, and do not attack planning on chump blocking everything he sends at me. I survive, dredge my Dakmor Salvage, cast my Hedron Crab, and mill the final 3 cards from his deck.

Game 2 is pretty unexciting, although I had not played as many games against the mirror as I needed to in order to understand the matchup. It ends up not mattering, as I don’t even need to cast the Extirpate in my hand, and instead I just get plenty of Zombies compared to his one big ol’ GraveTroll.

Round 7: R/G Scapeshift

Game one is a non-issue. I have a very slow start, but his mulligan to 4 included not one but two copies of Treetop Village as his only lands. I don’t have to try very hard to get there. Game two is, perhaps, a punt on his part. He takes the opportunity to Extirpate my Bridges, but I draw a Thoughtseize and he slumps when I cast it, having to discard his only spell: a Thought Hemorrhage. On my next turn I Dread Return Iona and debate whether I should name red or green; he has a Punishing Fire in his Graveyard and a Grove on the table along with five other lands. I name red and people after the match (including two writers for this very site) begin saying how it was a mistake and that I should have named green so as not to get Scapeshifted to death. I still maintain that Red is the right choice for several reasons: Firstly, he only had six lands, meaning that he would need to draw not only a Scapeshift to win, but also a seventh land all with only 3 draw steps. If I had named green however, even a simple Lightning Bolt could have killed Iona and cost me the game, not to mention that I was at a precarious 13 life with him having a Kitchen Finks on the board meaning that he could effectively race me if he drew a few lucky cards. A Jitte would have also meant much more bad news had I named Green, as it could also aid in taking down Iona when coupled with the Punishing Fire in his Graveyard. As it would turn out, he had boarded out his Scapeshifts anyway, so whatever.

Round 8: ID

Quarterfinals: Hypergenesis

Stephen and I had played several game-one games after we had decided to draw into the top 8 together and I ended up winning the majority of them, 3-2. Hypergenesis can occasionally be its own worst enemy because of its propensity to mulligan, but a solid 7-card opener is hard for many decks to beat. Going first was often a very important factor as both decks can simply “combo out” without worrying about interference from the opposition. We end up getting paired against one another, which, frankly, I didn’t particularly look forward to.

For the actual match, I win the die roll (score!) but am forced to mulligan down to a very mediocre 6 card hand. Stephen keeps which I assume means he has the nuts, and indeed when I’m unable to really do much by turn 3 he vomits his hand upon the table and that’s that. Maybe I should have gone to 5…

Game two is much less interesting, as he mulligans down to not much. I Thoughtseize him to which he Thirst in response and see a hand full of monsters and not much else. I take his Simian Spirit Guide, get a good army of dorks to bash his face, and he never really gets an answer.

Game three is much more intense, and truly a game worthy of the rubber match. I have in my opener a Spell Pierce which I’ve boarded in; however, I don’t want to give away my super sweet tech. I also don’t want to give him an opportunity to ditch a Spirit Guide and Violent Outburst in response to my fetch, so playing my lands this game requires a bit of trickery on my part and ends up meaning I play a slightly slower game. I play a Tarn on my first turn and opt not to crack it for the aforementioned reason at the end of his turn. On my next turn, I play a tapped Breeding Pool and on his turn he goes for the Hypergenesis cascading past about 2/3rds of his deck. I crack my land in response and his reaction is “don’t tell me you play Nix?!” to which I respond by casting my Spell Pierce. BOOM! I slowly start to build up an army but when I cast Ideas Unbound he removes my recently discarded Bloodghast/double Bridge graveyard from the game. I start drawing only, as opposed to dredging, to find some of the cards that might help me a little more in this matchup, specifically Extirpate. I eventually draw a Hedron Crab and make a choice to start milling him; from talking with Stephen earlier I knew that he only ran two Hypergenesis and if I could mill the other one I would be assured victory and since I had seen about 30 cards go by already, I figured there was a good chance that I could mill the second one. Three cards get milled, he’s at 12 life; 6 more cards get milled, he’s at 8 life. So close! And yet he chooses that exact moment to draw the Violent Outburst! He flips over a handful of cards to reveal the other Hypergenesis and I can’t Spell Pierce this one (too bad I didn’t play Nix I guess). If I hadn’t chose to cast a Stinkweed Imp that turn I could’ve potential drawn about 4 cards from the Rusalka to find another Spell Pierce or Extirpate, but alas, I only have two mana open. He dumps about a thousand creatures on the board and I lose. Sigh.

While I certainly am glad I made top 8, it’s frustrating to make another top 8 and fall short. And even though dredge won, the deck to definitely play this Saturday was Hypergenesis. While it didn’t actually win, of the four or so Hypergenesis decks that played in this PTQ, 2 of them made top 8. At Austin it was at the forefront of everyone’s mind and the hate was widespread and yet one still made the top 8 there. Now that the deck has fallen from the spotlight, no one is packing much specific hate for it anymore and aside from a few decks such as Dark Depths and Faeries, Hypergenesis doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of terrible matchups. I don’t know what its match up against the Elves! deck is like, but perhaps now might be an appropriate time to sleeve up some gigantic monsters.

There are several pointers that I’d like to give about the deck — for example, knowing when to wait until your landfall trigger resolves from your Hedron Crab before fetching in the off-chance that you can grab a Bloodghast that gets milled — and I would love to talk more about the deck — the sideboarding choices, how to play around the hate — but I’m fasting approaching my deadline and am already sporting a hefty word count as it is. Feel free to email me or talk in the forums about any questions you might have.


Zach Jesse
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ZoochZ on MTGO