Over the last few weeks, I have been dredging up old feelings for playing with intricate graveyard based strategies. A handful of years ago, utilizing the graveyard was one of my favorite ways to win games of Magic. Back then, the plethora of powerful tools for graveyard interaction did not exist in every metagame as they seem to these days. Powerful hoses like Rest in Peace lurk in the shadows of Standard waiting to prey on an unsuspecting opponent.
Luckily, the Standard graveyard deck, that has nothing to do with the Dredge mechanic, has not been noticed or taken seriously by the majority of the metagame. The data to support this claim is there in its absence. Count up the number of cards that interact with the graveyard in any given top 16 and you are likely to find a final tally of zero. Players believe that their strategies are so powerful that they need not worry about the graveyard shenanigans you are dredging up on your side of the table.
Their attitude may shift a little when you kill them from twenty in one hit.
Here’s how I’ve been rocking it.
By Mike Lanigan
There are some adjustments you can make to the deck, but the core cards need to stay intact. Because you are trying to hit a critical threshold of creatures in your graveyard, all of the cards that enable that are essential to your success. Cutting one Commune with the Gods is a possibility, but other than that, the other cards are a necessity. As you may have noted, I squeezed in two copies of Ultimate Price as well as the third Shadowborn Demon into the main deck. These changes have proven disruptive enough to earn their place going forward. In a big tournament atmosphere where playing against Esper Control multiple rounds is likely, these cards may be more suited for the sideboard, but they are strong against the majority of the metagame.
The key component to strength in this metagame is resilience to removal. This deck accomplishes that goal through forcing your opponent to remove unimpressive threats like Elvish Mystic only to face down a second copy of a nearly identical creature. Nighthowler takes this archetype to the next level and wins you games you had no business winning. The majority of your opponent’s removal spells will prove ineffective but there are two that are problematic. Both Detention Sphere and Abrupt Decay can deal with your bestowed Nighthowler while all the rest of the removal spells can only deal with the creature bestowed upon. Even Detention Sphere suffers from being an enchantment though so forcing through damage for the win is still possible.
There are two different lines of play that happen frequently. These two patterns happen often enough that you can identify how the game is likely to play out based on your opening hand. Here are the two common scenarios.
In this situation, you are looking to cast a creature on turn two and start attacking. With this hand, Herald of Torment will serve as your initial creature. Once you have made it past turn two, you will be searching for a way to apply more pressure.
In this specific hand, I drew a Grisly Salvage on turn three so I was able to start the digging process with two of my enablers. From there I found Shadowborn Demon and a Nemesis of Mortals. Games you win like this usually involve a quick 5/5 or two. So, even though this hand started out with four lands which is not ideal, the Act on Impulse-esque cards in this deck found the pieces to win the game.
Set Up for the Win
In this situation, you usually have Satyr Wayfinder and at least one other enabler. The goal is to use these search effects to position yourself to win the game. With this hand specifically, you are looking to fill your graveyard on turn two and three then follow up with a bestowed Nighthowler on turn four. These types of hands often don’t contain the Nighthowler, but honestly that’s the card you are digging for the majority of the time.
Every game is unique but with hands that involve Sylvan Caryatid, I almost always cast the mana fixer on turn two instead of one of the other two drops. There are a few reasons why you would want to lead with Caryatid. The first of which is so you can cast multiple two cost spells on turn three. This uses your mana in the most efficient way starts the gears of this deck turning as quick as possible. The second reason to sequence in this manner is because if you flip perfectly from an one of your sorceries, you can cast a Nemesis of Mortals that same turn. Once in a while you do actually flip five creatures, one of which is Nemesis. Playing your spells in this order gives you the best chance at your most powerful draws.
This type of hand can pan out a couple of ways. First of all, you can always draw one of your powerful cards or more enablers that will shape your plays. However, many times with a hand of this structure, you are more likely to be all-in on Lotleth Troll. Your first couple draws can drastically change your sequence of plays, but almost always you should wait to cast your Lotleth Troll until you have three mana. With so many removal spells floating around in Standard, it’s essential to have regenerate mana available on the turn you cast him.
Many similar hands to this set up have less creatures so your Troll will be smaller. In these situations he is a great defensive tool. Games like this can be grindy, but being able to discard Jarad and then bring him back from the graveyard late in the game is a sweet finishing move. Your opponents are not prepared to play against a recurring threat like Jarad either and most of them don’t understand how much damage his sacrifice ability is capable of dealing. There are many opportunities to combo kill your opponent just by activating Jarad’s ability at the end of their turn, attacking on your turn, and then using his ability again. If the game goes long, this should be the game plan you are trying to set up.
Sometimes you need to take a trip down Mulligan’s Lane. This is a great example of a hand that seems OK but you don’t have the ability to get your Nemesis in play ahead of schedule and you can’t even cast Herald of Torment on turn two. Even if you could cast the efficient flyer on turn two, this deck is not set up like Mono Black Aggro and cannot close games by attacking with aggressive creatures. It is for this reason that hands without one of your search effects are hard to justify keeping.
Once in a while this hand will work out but that’s only because the top of your deck grants you with a Commune with the Gods to make those 5/5’s into Tarmogoyf instead of Craw Wurm. Another situation that can occur with any hand is Thoughtseize ripping it apart. If the opportunity and timing line up right, make sure you cast your Grisly Salvage in response to the discard spell because even though they could remove what you salvage, setting up your graveyard is still priority number one.
Unless players start packing graveyard hate for this deck, it will continue to be a great choice for any event you are heading to. If there were a big Standard event on my calendar, I would be excited to Dredge up some wins. Sometimes it’s better to play your enablers first while others you’d be better served to get some creatures in play. Sculpt each game according to the array of spells at your disposal. Treating each game as a puzzle to solve is the best way to be successful with this deck or any like it.
Tournament Tips: Learn from your mistakes
For those of you new to my column, one feature I include from time to time is this section called Tournament Tips. I’ve been playing for thirteen years now and I’ve learned many things along the way. This is one way I will help you grow as players.
One of the most important aspects of your game is how much it’s growing. No matter how skilled you are or what level you are playing on, there is still room for growth. After an event, it is so important to assess your play and reflect on how you could have played better. There have been many events that I top 8’d that I identified multiple areas that needed worked on. In the same vein, there have been events like the recent GP Richmond, where I failed to succeed but was extremely proud of my tight play. Sometimes you get unlucky, but much of the time there are specific causes to your losses floating out there waiting to be identified. If you are striving to discover areas you can improve upon, you will improve.
Unleash the Dredging Force!
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