There’s the easy way and the hard way. The easy way would be to drive a scant 4 hours to Baltimore, Maryland to play the SCG Open with my always-sleeved Miracles deck. I love playing Legacy, I love playing tournaments in Baltimore, and I wouldn’t have had to prepare too much to play Miracles, a deck I have spent a lot of time with over the past few years.
The hard way would be to grind Modern for 2 weeks in order to figure out what deck I should play, book a costly flight to Dallas to play a 4 times bigger 2,000-player tournament in a format much maligned for being high variance, and then roll the dice and see where I end up.
I knew which option I wanted to choose. I also knew which one I had to choose. Nothing ever comes easy. Click, clank. “That’s the sound of two dice being rolled,” he said melodramatically, as he wiped tears out of his eyes while booking a ticket to Dallas, Texas. “Why Me?!” he then yelled, fists raised, while looking up at the smoothly painted ceiling of his posh Roanoke, VA apartment.
You don’t get back to Worlds by taking the easy road. That’s why I decided to not take a road at all. I took to the air, thanks to the Wright brothers and the modern marvel that is airplane travel! It was grind time. Modern, come hither. It’s time we had a little chat. For what it’s worth, I don’t hate Modern like many do. I actually like the format, flaws and all. It’s high variance, but it’s also high-skill, and prepared players can still succeed. I have more Modern GP Top 8s than any other format. I also invest way more time into this format than basically everyone I know. It could be a coincidence, but I don’t think so.
I tested for what probably amounted to about 100 hours over the past 2 weeks. I played over 100 matches with Dredge by the time it was all said and done, and that didn’t even account for all the other decks I tested with varying levels of intensity, such as Lantern Control, which I spent 2 full days on. I was eating, breathing, sleeping, and dreaming Magic. It was consuming me, defining me, molding me. It was also destroying me, but I decided to leave that out of the original sentence because it didn’t sound as badass.
Brad Nelson is a big Jund guy, so in honor of him, I decided to play Jund.
All right, so maybe a slightly different kind of Jund. Dredge Jund. Fine, it was just Dredge.
Dredge was the first deck I tested with. I did poorly with it in 3 Leagues, and then dismissed it. I tested a myriad of other decks in the meantime, but it’s as they say: The first shall be last. Eventually I came crawling back to Dredge. I decided to give the deck a second chance, as I was continually losing to it with most of the other decks I was testing.
The second chance was all it took. I started smashing people with the deck. Unless people had an overwhelming amount of hate, I was winning, and sometimes even if they did have an overwhelming amount of hate I was still winning. I remember capping off a 5-0 run through a Modern League on Magic Online by beating a G/W Tron opponent who had both Relic of Progenitus and Rest in Peace. It wasn’t enough. It’s never enough.
Why did I have such a poor initial result with Dredge and then such a good end result? The long and short of it is that the deck is actually really hard to pilot. There are a lot of decisions to be made, a lot of really close hands that you have to know whether to keep or mulligan, and a lot of difficult cards to navigate around in a variety of matches. I also started by out testing worse lists of the deck. Once I switched to playing the fetchland versions over the Mana Confluence versions my win rate went up. Over time, my list got better, and my win rate improved, as my skill also increased. They were all related.
So why was I playing the deck with newt-like efficiency at first, losing left and right, before I was turned back into playing at human efficiency? “Well, I got bettah.” Practice, in this case, didn’t make perfect, because perfection is an unattainable ideal, but it certainly made decent! Practice makes deece.
I got really practiced with the deck, which was key many times over the course of the Grand Prix where I won in board states and situations that were identical to things that had come up over the course of my testing. In many cases I had lost in the test games for making the wrong play and was given a chance to redeem myself in the tournament. For example, I lost many times to Jund in testing before learning how to sideboard and how to play the matchup. At 9-0, I got paired against Jund, used the lessons I learned, and even won the game with a pair of 9/9 Golgari Grave-Trolls, which was exactly what my testing had come down to (Grave-Troll is the way to win post-board games against Jund).
I even played against a few oddball decks at the Grand Prix, like U/R Madcap Experiment and Skred Red. You might think I was crawling in the dark, searching for the answers with those kinds of pairings but in reality, I had actually played like 5 matches against various Madcap Experiment decks on MTGO and a smattering of matches against Skred Red on Magic Online as well, leaving me at least marginally prepared. I actually played against a Skred Red deck on MTGO with Eternal Scourge and a set of main-deck Relics, nearly identical to the list I lost to in the Top 8 of the Grand Prix. Unfortunately, that testing didn’t help me, and I got Skred browned in the quarterfinals. I got sent home and he won the tournament, and had his victory talked about for days on Skreddit. Such is life.
Other than my defeat in the Top 8, the tournament went super well for me. I started out 9-0 after Day 1, despite nursing a brutal headache for most of the day. On Day 2, I got destroyed one round by Breach Titan, but the rest of the rounds were smooth sailing. I was able to fortunately complete the prophecy that I had predicted a full 5 years ago.
Get wrecked, Benedict.
Dredge is the deck I was looking for in Modern, at least for the time being. It is an extraordinarily powerful deck. Dredge was not well-positioned last weekend. There was a lot more Dredge hate than there were Dredge decks at GP Dallas, according to my expert analytics. This analysis was compiled by me looking around, barely seeing anyone playing Dredge anywhere near the top tables, yet seeing people with a good bit of hate. Data-driven approaches, ladies and gentlemen. Get your fresh data right here.
I decided to play the deck anyway, despite figuring that hate would likely be out in high numbers. The thing is, you win game 1 a high amount of the time and if they don’t draw their hate, can’t pressure you fast enough before you rebuild post-hate, or you draw your anti-hate-hate, then you can still win postboard games pretty easily.
For some examples of how dumb Dredge is, even against hate, here are some games I won at the Grand Prix. I beat a Grixis opponent whose first 3 plays of the game were Surgical Extraction, Surgical Extraction, and then Snapcaster Mage + Surgical Extraction. I won by hard-casting and beating down with giant Golgari Grave-Trolls. I defeated an Abzan opponent who was on the play and curved out with turn-1 Noble Hierarch, turn-2 Anafenza, the Foremost, and turn-3 Scavenging Ooze. That was in game 1.
I went back and watched some of the matches I played on camera, and the Twitch chat was talking about how lucky I was getting with dredges because I was putting a few Narcomoebas and Prized Amalgams into play on turn 2 off of a Cathartic Reunion. I think people just don’t understand that this isn’t “getting lucky” with the deck. That’s just the norm. When you go turn-1 Faithless Looting or Insolent Neonate into turn-2 Cathartic Reunion, you often see over half of your deck by the end of that turn. Couple that with the ability to control which cards you discard from your hand, and it’s actually frequently the opposite. You’re unlucky if you didn’t put 8 power into play on turn 2. I know that sounds absurd, but Cathartic Reunion is a disgusting card in this deck.
I was lucky in that I didn’t have to mulligan too much and for the most part, avoided excessive hate, but once you keep a reasonable hand, barring the cold-hands of variance, you’re going to do some dirty things. There were a number of times I looked at my opening hand, saw a few lands, a Faithless Looting or Cathartic Reunion and some dredge cards, and had a hard time not cracking a smile, since I basically knew my opponent couldn’t win. I would be doing dirty things this game, and they would be along for the ride.
Dredge didn’t have a particularly dominant showing last weekend. I think a lot of that is in how hard the deck is to pilot. You have to know how to time your spells, which cards to dredge, and when to draw naturally. It’s not necessarily intuitive. It takes an understanding of how the deck operates, and a constant appraisal of how you’re going to win the game and what your path is to achieving that win. The deck is also beatable on a level that decks like Amulet Bloom or Eldrazi were not. Prepared opponents can win against it with good play and good plans.
I don’t think it’s a broken deck, but it’s still a disgusting deck, and it’s here to stay. Bring the hate. I’ll be waiting. But, uh, don’t bring too much hate or anything. It probably can’t beat that.