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#SCGNY is in the books. The owners of Dinosaur BBQ are now counting their stacks of cash and planning a well-earned vacation to Aruba and the collective LDL cholesterol level of the Magic community has risen several points.
But as we're waiting in the doctor's office for our check-ups we need something to do, and the choices are "read ten-year-old magazines," "be the awkward adult playing with the children's toys," or "start preparing for the next tournament…"
All right, you can play with the blocks for ten minutes, but after that, let little Timmy and Julie have their turn, too.
Satisfied? Good, now let's get down to some business.
The eventual talk of the tournament in Syracuse was Eldrazi Tron and for good reason: it took both finals slots and continued to look like the powerful Tier 1 option it has been for the last few months. But for much of Day 2, the buzz followed young Julian Grace-Martin and his innovative R/G Vengevine list, utilizing longtime Dredge enablers Faithless Looting, Cathartic Reunion, and Insolent Neonate to not only set up some 4/3 hasty Plants but also incredibly cheap Hollow Ones.
Julian looked poised for a deep run standing at 10-1, but a disappointing 0-4 end to the day led to a 34th place finish, dampening the excitement surrounding the deck as the top dogs took over. However, there's a lot to like about what Julian's list does, and Nick Miller graciously afforded us a first-hand look at the deck with a deck tech:
- 4 Hollow One
- 3 Goblin Guide
- 2 Hooting Mandrills
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 4 Street Wraith
- 4 Vengevine
It should come as no surprise that I'm a big fan of Vengevine after my year-long love affair with Dredge. I even sideboarded a package of Vengevine and Buried Alive in Legacy Elves back before Natural Order was a card. I've tried Dredgevine decks of all sorts in Modern over the years, but none have been successful. I want this to be the one that bucks the trend.
The way I see it, the core of the deck is the following 24 cards:
Without extensive testing, I wouldn't touch any of these, since they are integral to the core of the deck. What I find so compelling about the core is how well the enablers connect Hollow One with Vengevine.
At their core, Vengevine decks are playing a critical mass of cheap creatures along with a critical mass of graveyard enablers in order to consistently cheat the 4/3 onto the battlefield. This can create a tension for space in the deck, but the velocity provided by the graveyard enablers let you find more cheap creatures than you would expect when only running seventeen.
The real issue comes from having a deck that is playing cheap, underpowered creatures with spells that don't necessarily go well with those creatures. You rarely see Faithless Looting beside Goblin Guide even though they're both good cards because Goblin Guide would rather be paired with heavy burn or pump spells.
As a result, the deck can fairly easily fold if the pieces of the Vengevine plan don't come together, leaving you with an aggro deck that isn't fast enough to get the job done in time. Hollow One is the first step in remedying this issue, giving you a sizable body on the cheap, easily costing one in this deck and often zero.
This means that not only are you more likely to recur Vengevine on turn two or three, you're doing so with a card that is a substantial threat should your opponent have an answer for your plant. It also gives you aggressive draws that are degenerate without drawing Vengevine, at times putting eight or twelve power on the battlefield on turn 1 or 2.
And when you put them together, you get the following nut draw:
Cycle Street Wraith.
At that point you have lethal damage on turn 2 through a removal spell!
Now, we shouldn't go around evaluating the strength of decks based on their absolute best draws, but it does show you what the deck is capable of, and that draw is far enough above what most other decks in Modern can do to be exciting. The deck generates a lot of turn 3 or 4 kills, some of which were seen on camera last weekend.
As for the rest of the list, Hooting Mandrills and Lightning Bolt are clear additions on power level alone, with Mandrills also serving as additional copies of Hollow One as a cheap creature to recur Vengevine that isn't undersized. Of course, the diminishing returns on delve prevent you from playing a lot of copies, so two make sense to me.
We're left with these twelve cards:
These fill out the deck and give it its overall strategy. This is an aggro-combo deck, which for Vengevine feels right at home. Monastery Swfitspear and Goblin Guide are among the best one-drops you can play and the deck needs plenty of them, while the pump spells let you go over the top of blockers or race combo decks.
This is a well-built, coherent deck and I applaud Julian's ingenuity in building it, but with how flexible that 24-card core is, I have to wonder if we can do better.
Sticking with the aggro-combo shell, I think Julian's list is close to optimal. The one card I'd consider is Wild Nacatl as a one-drop over some number of the haste creatures. As Julian notes in the deck tech, haste is important to enable a combo finish from no battlefield, but that doesn't mean we have to limit ourselves to only haste creatures. Wild Nacatl is a lot more powerful than those two options and splashing a couple of white lands is quite easy. It also lets you sideboard things like Stony Silence and Path to Exile, which could help in a lot of matchups.