I’ve mentioned before that I once took a years-long break from Constructed Magic, returning to the scene with Pyromancer Ascension. One of the first decks I acquired on my own shortly afterward? Dredgevine. A lot of variations on the Hedron Crab fueled Vengevine strategy popped up that year, and the one that caught my eye was Gerry Thompson’s Knight of the Reliquary addition, which you can see here:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Meddling Mage
- 3 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Hedron Crab
- 2 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Enclave Cryptologist
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 4 Vengevine
- 1 Aether Adept
- 4 Fauna Shaman
Aside: I don’t think adding white actually made the deck better at its thing. In fact, I recall being quite amused by how many opponents fell over to Linvala while I floundered to do anything else relevant, leading me to start brewing up Linvala decks.
The deck was a reasonable tier 2 contender for most of the early Modern format following the post-Philadelphia bans, but it never really caught on. Then they put Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze in the format—that did a number on its popularity immediately. Keep in mind that I’m not saying the cards aren’t survivable. However, there’s something to be said for the daunting nature of planning to play against them constantly. Most people would rather just walk away!
Recently, I spotted a few noteworthy attempts to carry the torch onward in Daily Event results.
When you think about the timing, it makes sense. Jund is at an all-time low online, and many players are bored with their Birthing Pod decks. The most popular archetypes online are Affinity, blue-based control decks, and a variety of combo strategies, with everything else sort of fluctuating. I’m not saying that B/G-based midrange doesn’t exist, but it’s not succeeding with the numbers one expects to see in real life. Frankly, I attribute this phenomenon mostly to players just choosing to play other things more than the midrange decks being bad, but that’s just one man’s opinion.
All this means is that the amount of maindeck hate is actually at a bit of a low, and if your opponents are only trying to a) combo you or b) control you with a bunch of removal, then a speedy deck with an engine capable of going long isn’t a bad place to be. That’s exactly what Dredgevine offers: aggressive and sometimes explosive starts with the ability to renew the assault turn after turn.
First off, let’s look at a take from psilentobs in a recent 4-0:
Taking advantage of the potential that lies in a Modern mana base, psilentobs has a five-color build fueled by fetch lands. The singleton shock-land strategy has an acknowledged vulnerability to Tectonic Edge, but I doubt he’s too worried about that—not only is the deck so aggressively board-oriented that killing a land on turn 4 is likely the least of an opponent’s concerns, but this deck can actually operate very effectively with only three lands in play, making the Blackcleave Cliffs and Darkslick Shores ideal.
The basic bread and butter of a Dredgevine list is here. Hedron Crab mills Vengevines and Bloodghasts for free bodies, with Gravecrawler and Lingering Souls offering you good value. You’ll need another Zombie for Gravecrawler, which is where Lotleth Troll comes in—not only is he a solid man that resurrects your dead Gravecrawlers, but he also enables you to unload any Vengevines and Bloodghasts that clog up your hand.
Among the spells are some typical supplements. Lightning Axe passes the Tarmogoyf test, as its capable of killing the typical big man and also handles smaller creatures efficiently thanks to its light mana cost—the same reasons that have made Dismember popular. Faithless Looting is the powerhouse and a very attractive card to any deckbuilder. The closer you can get this card to Ancestral Recall, the more that Flashback starts looking like the lottery. When you’re putting the cards you pitch into play . . . you’re getting pretty close.
There are a few interesting ideas going on here. First off, he’s adopted Drown in Filth over Grisly Salvage. The latter goes one card deeper and may or may not grant you something relevant in return, while Drown goes only four cards but has the potential to give you something much more valuable. My intuition is that Grisly Salvage gets the nod, but it’s possible that a mix is correct in order to give you some options.
Most of the more interesting choices are in the sideboard. Ground Seal is an effective defense measure against Shaman, Ooze, and the occasional Surgical Extraction—it’s much less effective against Relic of Progenitus and Rest in Peace, the two cards that non-B/G decks tend to have access to after sideboarding. Grudge, Decay, and Nature’s Claim are pretty slow ways to solve the problem, but there aren’t many choices that cover both. Rest in Peace is uncommon enough that I’d be content to gamble my chips on Pithing Needle if push came to shove, but that’s me.
I’m not a fan of the Raven’s Crime and Life from the Loam—I’m not sure what matchups are worth attacking in this fashion. It’s cute so it gets points for that, but I’d much rather try to blast through a control deck than slice them up with a singleton. It’s not a recipe for success.
This week brought us another look at the concept, this time from the mind of Modern Pro Tour champion Stanislav Cifka in a recent Premier Event. Cifka’s been playing a few different decks in Modern events online, no doubt familiarizing himself with them as the Pro Tour creeps ever closer, and he’s got an acknowledged penchant for brewing. His take is a bit more conventional than the above but also shows off some additional options.
- 2 Grim Lavamancer
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Hedron Crab
- 4 Vengevine
- 2 Skaab Ruinator
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 2 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
First off, Cifka has gone with Lightning Bolt over Lightning Axe. I don’t think I need to explain to anyone why Lightning Bolt is a good card—it’s one of the defining pillars of the Modern format—but what does the transition mean?
I suppose one could entertain the idea that it was an accident, but I’d rather not.
For one, Bolt offers some reach outside of combat. For a deck capable of Vengevine blitzes, I’m not so sure that reach is very valuable; it’s not like you fear Supreme Verdict. The Grim Lavamancers and the fourth Deathrite Shaman do actually enhance Cifka’s ability to go to the dome with damage, so let’s not rule it out—it bears some playing with. Both spells offer very similar interaction with creatures, but Bolt is less restrictive on its costs and offers the freeroll on their life total.
I think Axe pitching a land might be too important to ever cut if you want to Drown in Filth, but I’m willing to entertain arguments here I guess. The deck I’d prefer to play with is the one with Axe however.
Grim Lavamancer is a great tool for fighting opposing Shamans and Oozes without creating a blank in other matchups, so I really enjoy seeing it added here. It synergizes with the deck’s primary plans by making use of extra cards in the bin while complicating matters for the opponent. You can even slow down and draw out a game thanks to its ability to generate card advantage.
Cifka has trimmed down on Troll, which means his list plays Gravecrawler much more carefully. To be honest, drawing more than one Troll is pretty close to a mulligan, the Battlegrowth notwithstanding, so I’m fine with this adjustment. He does have a supplemental Zombie to even the count back up, although it’s a little trickier to actually play: the much-maligned Skaab Ruinator! Ruinator has shown up in past lists, and he’s basically exactly what he seems to be, which is huge and troubling to cast. That said, a 5/6 flier gets the job done. Many Modern decks have trouble fending off Restoration Angel, so while you’re trading up in size and recursion for a "vulnerability" to Abrupt Decay it’s really worthwhile. Still, Ruinator also seems like a worthy card to complement Lightning Axe, so what do I know.
The sideboard is much more straightforward—I approve. Ancient Grudge helps against Tron’s Relics while solving the Affinity problem better than Darkblast anyway, and upping the Ground Seals keeps you in business against non Rest in Peace hate. Like I said, that one’s probably worth sucking up and just miseing Abrupt Decay or losing to.
We’ve got a banned and restricted list update coming this Monday, and I don’t have much to say about it. I’m very eager to see what happens, although my intuition is "not much" for many of the reasons that Brian Kibler stated on his blog.
If Wild Nacatl stays banned, I’ll be forced to stop taking the folks in charge of such things seriously—it’s already a laughable situation considering the difference in power level and format-warping influence between the Shaman and the Cat, so they’d have to ban both to even have ground to stand on.
Speaking of, if Deathrite Shaman goes, I fully expect Pod to follow, as banning the little guy would leave a real power vacuum in the midrange decks that would make Pod even better—it’ll just add Noble Hierarchs and go about its day. I doubt it’ll happen, though, as I’ve never believed Wizards would ban Shaman while it’s Standard legal and it’s become less influential if anything over the past few months despite its side effects on the format. Pod has a higher shot, but I’d give it coin-flip odds.
There’s no need to keep Grave-Troll and Dread Return both in exile—let the green man go! I’m a little more wary of Bitterblossom, but I think its existence would create a more diverse range of decks than we currently have, so I’m not averse to the idea. We can always fix it later.
My position on Modern has always been that I’d most enjoy a rotating banned list, keeping things fresh by allowing the existence of decks to come and go, but this isn’t a policy I expect to see instituted anytime soon. I will take a few moments to discuss it however.
The primary argument I’ve seen raised against this idea is its "negative" effect on the secondary market. First off, fluctuating prices—even (or especially) volatile ones—are good for economies and generally good for the people within them. That’s where everyone makes their money for the most part, with some occasionally losing big but most people just paying for the privilege of getting what they want once it’s popular—the American dream and how every business makes their margin in an upswing.
The system I envision would see the day that a new set of bans takes effect also be the day that the next set of bans is announced. This would cushion price drops—players can still play with their soon-to-be-banned cards for the predetermined length of a season, knowing the exact date that they’ll be unavailable, or sell in advance and actually get a fine margin because the cards are currently useful. Thanks to the rotating nature of the system, players wouldn’t be punished for holding on to things, either—they’d just have to be patient and in the meantime enjoy a fresh new metagame every few months.
In fact, such a system would likely stimulate the economy significantly in the meantime, as things like Jace, Bloodbraid Elf, Bitterblossom, and so on are fine to allow freedom every once in a while. I wouldn’t mind a super powerful deck existing for three months with the knowledge that I spend those three months either playing it or targeting it—that’s actually an interesting tournament situation. Even if you don’t like it . . . it’s only temporary after all.
I’m sure such a market would enable other practices that even I haven’t thought of—I’m not in the business of buying/selling Magic cards, but I can’t imagine a world with prices in flux being bad for the people who are good at that business.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. Here’s hoping February 3rd brings us something interesting, at least for us spectators—the fresher the format, the better the Pro Tour.