Treasure Cruise is the biggest deal in Legacy, and it appeared in five out of the Top 16 decklists at SCG Oakland. With much less fanfare, Golgari Grave-Troll nabbed another three of those 16 slots, including first place.
That's weird, right? Treasure Cruise relies on the graveyard, so shouldn't there be more graveyard hate? How could Dredge succeed in an environment like this?
To answer that, look at the sideboards of the rest of the Top 16. Dredge is a deck that generally fears matchups less than it does sideboards, and sideboards in Oakland didn't pack much that Dredge cares about. The total copies of relevant anti-Dredge cards (outside the Dredge decks themselves) break down like so:
That's an average of roughly one anti-Dredge card per sideboard. Considering Dredge routinely goes off before Rest in Peace is even castable, it's a pretty awesome time to be sleeving up Golgari Thugs.
The Dredge players clearly bought into this notion, as their sideboards included way more Dredge hate than the other archetypes: 4 Faerie Macabre, 3 Leyline of the Void, and 2 Tormod's Crypt between just the three of them, for an average of three hate cards per Dredge sideboard. That's almost triple the hate found in the other archetypes; the only players who took Dredge seriously were the Dredge players themselves!
If you're like me, you think the Legacy metagame is underprepared for Dredge right now. So how can we best exploit that for Grand Prix New Jersey? As Columbus is still in progress as I write this, let's start by looking at Oakland.
The Oakland Builds
First, let's start with the three decklists:
- 1 Ashen Rider
- 1 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 4 Golgari Thug
- 2 Hapless Researcher
- 4 Ichorid
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Putrid Imp
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 1 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 2 Golgari Thug
- 3 Ichorid
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 3 Putrid Imp
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 1 Griselbrand
Alexander Shearer ran a fetchland manabase. I didn't think this made sense before Faithless Looting was printed (when you wanted both Tireless Tribe and Firestorm), but now I can see an argument for going Grixis. If you dredge half your deck, the thinning from a single fetch is similar to a free "half-dredge," and that's at least enough to make you stop and think. I would definitely splash red if I were going this route, as sideboarded Firestorm is a big deal and Hapless Researcher is just abysmally worse than Faithless Looting, but fetching is a more defensible angle nowadays than it used to be.
Joseph Moreno's list is highly unconventional and has a lot of choices I respect. A hearty thirteen dredgers is cool. I can also see the logic in four maindeck Ichorids, only one Dread Return, and no Dread Return targets; if you expect to dominate game one with Ichorid (which you can in most matchups right now), why bother catering to Dread Return? This stance hurts you the most against Miracles and Elves, where Ichorids often cannot get the job done, but it makes you even more consistent in other matchups.
Andrew Murch, on the other hand, went with Griselbrand and Flame-Kin Zealot for maindeck Dread Return targets. This requires two slots to Moreno's zero, but essentially says, "if I resolve Dread Return on Griselbrand, you're dead this turn." One Griselbrand activation consistently lets you dredge enough to deck yourself, which in turn guarantees you'll see Flame-Kin Zealot along with your other Dread Return and every remaining Narcomoeba, Therapy, and Bridge.
"You're dead this turn" matters a lot more now than it did a few years ago. Very few Legacy decks can handle a pile of Zombies and a Golgari Grave-Troll after taking multiple Therapies on the chin, but Elves and Miracles both can. For Miracles, it's straightforward: spin the Top on upkeep to reveal a sandbagged Terminus and recover from there. Elves, meanwhile, can replay an end-step-bounced Visionary or two, then topdeck Natural Order or Craterhoof Behemoth (hardcastable via Cradle) to go from Hellbent to Winner Winner in that one-turn window you gave them.
As far as lands go, I think fourteen is the right number to pair with four Lion's Eye Diamonds. I can get behind boarding one or two lands out in certain situations, but maindecking only twelve seems too light given how many Wastelands are out there, how often you need to tap your first land more than once to win, and how important it is to win game 1.
I like maxing on Gemstone Mine right now because avoiding land pain improves your Sneak and Show matchup. It's common to untap and swing for the win with Ichorids after an Emrakul connects, but you can only pull that off if you stay above fifteen life. That said, Undiscovered Paradise is still so bad with Cephalid Coliseum--and against Daze--that I would rather play Forsaken City if I really felt I needed more painless rainbow lands beyond Gemstone Mine.
Building for New Jersey
Let's suppose we expect Grand Prix New Jersey to have a sideboard breakdown similar to SCG Oakland. In other words, we want to prepare for Grafdigger's Cage and Rest in Peace, but we don't expect to see many copies of Tormod's Crypt, Relic of Progenitus, Nihil Spellbomb, or Surgical Extraction.
If you're the type of Dredge player to board reactive answers to hate cards, this means Nature's Claim is better than it's ever been. It removes both Rest in Peace and Grafdigger's Cage, and unlike Chain of Vapor, it removes them in a way that does not let the opponent simply replay them immediately. Abrupt Decay's uncounterability means the opponent can't ruin your day with Grafdigger's Cage plus Force of Will, but of course, the mana cost means they can probably ruin your day with Grafdigger's Cage plus Wasteland instead. They might not even need the Wasteland, as you probably only play 8-10 lands that can contribute to casting Abrupt Decay, which presumably explains the three copies of Lotus Petal and two copies of City of Brass in Joseph Moreno's sideboard.
The other thing this means is that worrying about graveyard wipes is just not worthwhile right now. Since one of the major historical selling points of Putrid Imp and Tireless Tribe is that they combat these, we can now consider builds that eschew them entirely.
Why might we do that? Have a look at this list:
Excluding Putrid Imp from the maindeck frees up space to max out on draw effects. This means you're more likely to combo out quickly, particularly in conjunction with Lion's Eye Diamond…which in turn means you can often dodge slower hate cards like Deathrite Shaman and Relic of Progenitus simply by flooding the board on turn 1 before they have a chance to matter.
Dredging without Imp does have its drawbacks. For one, it alters your graveyard composition; you'll have less Ichorid food and your Grave-Trolls will be smaller. If you're used to having Tireless Tribe, they'll be much smaller; closer to 5/5 than the 10/10s you typically see with both Tribe and Imp boosting the creature count. For another, it means you have to rely almost exclusively on Narcomoebas and Ichorids for Zombie production, so it hurts more when they get Plowed.
The reason I mentioned "if you're the type of Dredge player to board reactive answers to hate cards" when discussing Nature's Claim and Abrupt Decay is that, simply put, I'm not that type of Dredge player. I've been consistently happy following what I said in The Dark Art of Dredge Fu: sideboarding reactive cards to try and counter anti-Dredge hate simply isn't worth diluting the combo. Free yourself from the Fear. Stay scary and make them show you the hate.
This list is exactly what I'd run if I were attending GP New Jersey. There are more matchups than ever where explosiveness lets you dodge most or all of their interaction, and this list has about as much explosiveness as you can pack into a Dredge list without sacrificing consistency.
Griselbrand in Dredge
For years, my default in Dredge has been to eschew dedicated Dread Return targets in the maindeck. After all, if you don't have a problem winning without them, why dilute your engine? That's just asking to mulligan more! These days I have a reason to diverge from that default: against Elves and Miracles, Dredge actually does have a problem winning after reanimating a large Grave-Troll.
Once you've decided to maindeck a Dread Return target, the question becomes: is Griselbrand enough? Or do you need something like a Flame-Kin Zealot as well? Let's examine what a reanimated Griselbrand does by itself.
Against Elves, once you've activated Griselbrand and dredged just shy of decking yourself, you'll have out a horde of Zombies along with a lifelinked 7/7 on defense. It will take a ton of Elves to Craterhoof for the win around all that, and you'll easily swing back for lethal with Ichorids and Zombies if they come up short (you'll have Therapied their hand to smithereens, of course, so going off with a topdecked Glimpse of Nature is very unlikely). It's still not quite the guarantee that "yer dead" provides, but it's far more reliable than the usual "make some dudes, go."
Against Miracles, the story is even simpler: Griselbrand guarantees you don't run out of gas if they Terminus your first wave. Instead, your graveyard will be stacked to the point where you can say "show me another Terminus or you're dead" for multiple consecutive turns, and that's basically always enough. As long as you're careful about it (return Ichorids one at a time, or leave them safely in the graveyard when your existing board is lethal!), you can bring home a win without needing an assist from Flame-Kin Zealot or the like.
There's been a ton written about Griselbrand in Reanimator, Sneak and Show, and so forth, but not much about its role in Dredge. Besides the fact that he lets you (nearly) deck yourself, he also has a phenomenal interaction with Firestorm. If you have boarded in Firestorm - against, say, Elves - and just elect to draw seven cards, chances are excellent that you'll see both a Firestorm and a land with which to cast it. If your opponent is unfortunate enough to have many targets, this play can get very nasty.
Remember that you can elect to draw or dredge on a case-by-case basis. Unless I'm hunting for a Firestorm, I usually start with dredging because of Narcomoeba; Narcomoebas you dredge are free, whereas Narcomoebas you draw are usually dead weight. I don't tend to start drawing cards until dredging more will put me in danger of decking.
Sideboarding vs Combo
Usually against combo, the goal is to cast as many Cabal Therapies as possible as quickly as possible, while incidentally turning enough Narcomoebas into Zombies (and reanimated fatties) that you clock them out before they can recover from the Therapy hits. Ichorid rarely does anything until turn 3, which is typically too late to make a difference, so the default plan is to board out all three Ichorids for three Putrid Imps.
Putrid Imp enables more keepable hands by offering a discard outlet, and provides a body for Dread Return as early as turn 1. The fourth Putrid Imp only comes in (for Lion's Eye Diamond) against graveyard sweepers. Griselbrand stays in as "Cabal Therapy number five." If you are heavy on creatures but light on Therapies, reanimating him will quickly remedy that.
Firestorms are better than Putrid Imp against Elves, and Leylines are better against graveyard-centric combos. Against those decks, I also cut two copies of Careful Study to fit the fourth Firestorm (or Leyline) and Elesh Norn (or Ashen Rider against Reanimator), since comboing off to Grave-Troll is often insufficient in those matchups. I don't think Firestorms are worth it against Dredge, as I'd be cutting draw spells to make room for them, and I think going off quickly is more important than anything else except having a Leyline.
Taking out two Therapies intuitively makes sense against Elves, because that deck is redundant enough that nabbing the two best cards from their hand is rarely enough. However, if you have no Ichorids (which are fairly laughable against Elves), you still need Therapies to split your Narcomoebas into enough Zombies to be able to Dread Return.
I do leave in two Ichorids against Sneak and Show. (The exact plan is to cut 1 Ichorid for 1 Ashen Rider.) Just having Ichorid in your deck can force them to show you Griselbrand, as even if Emrakul wipes your board, Ichorid keeps right on hitting and providing Therapy fodder. I've definitely beaten Sneak and Show with Ichorids in multiple games where Emrakul successfully connected.
Sideboarding vs Deathrite Shaman
Your two best weapons against Deathrite Shaman are Firestorm and Lion's Eye Diamond; the former because it lets you smoke a turn-1 Shaman while getting your engine online (and doming the opponent for two, or both players for three if you need to pitch a third card), and the latter because it lets you overwhelm the Shaman by flooding the graveyard before it gets online.
As such, you basically always want to board in Firestorm against Deathrite Shaman. The most common cuts to make room are Ichorid and Careful Study, but the exact mix is very matchup-dependent. The problem with leaving in Ichorid is that it's risky to play a grindy game against a Deathrite deck, as sooner or later they'll land one. However, if the opponent's only way to exile an Ichorid is Deathrite Shaman, Ichorids can quickly overwhelm (for example) countermagic-heavy draws that don't include Deathrite. So play it by ear.
Sideboarding vs Miracles
The trouble with Dread Returned fatties against Miracles is that they can all be dispatched with relative ease. Between Terminus, Swords to Plowshares, Karakas, Jace, and both Brainstorm and Divining Top to dodge Cabal Therapy, your heavy hitters are often not long for this world.
In game 1, a reanimated Griselbrand is generally enough to get the job done even if they immediately show you the Terminus they've been hiding under a Divining Top. Just make sure not to deck yourself (I generally dredge down to five or so cards left, but remember that Terminus puts creatures on the bottom, giving you more room to work), and bring your Ichorids back one at a time, and after a few turns of churning out Zombies and swinging for the fences, you'll be fine.
Post-board, Terminus into Rest in Peace is pretty much game over even if you reanimated Griselbrand. I've looked at various additional Dread Return targets as ways to deal with this, from Flame-Kin Zealot, Iona, Shield of Emeria, and Sundering Titan to off-the-wall stuff like Realm Razer and Spiketail Drake. I ultimately settled on Reveillark.
Reveillark is perhaps the best Terminus insurance policy Dredge can buy. On its way off the table, it tags in two Golgari Grave-Trolls--and yes, each Troll does get to count both itself and the other Troll. Unlike the other alternatives I considered, Reveillark is both a substantial threat in its own right (regardless of whether you reanimated Griselbrand first) and isn't crippled by Karakas or a timely Swords to Plowshares--both of which are surprisingly effective against Sundering Titan when paired with an uncracked fetch.
I cut an Ichorid for the Reveillark because the longer the game drags on, the higher the chances a Rest in Peace will come down. Speaking of Rest in Peace, it's usually what you should Therapy for unless you have a very specific reason to name something else, like Swords to Plowshares.
Sideboarding vs Anything Else
Basically change as close to nothing as possible. If you crush them in game 1, then by default you crush them in game 2 as well. Don't dilute your combo into something that no longer crushes by default! Make them show you the hate; if they have it, battle through it, and if they don't have it, crush like it's game 1 all over again.
Sometimes you just want a minor tweak; my entire sideboarding plan against Death and Taxes is to cut Griselbrand for Ashen Rider, and that's only because they play roughly a thousand copies of Karakas.
Best of luck in New Jersey!