It's hard to know what will stick and what won't when new cards release. But it seems no matter how similar newcomers are to previous cards or their apparent strength, there's always something that sneaks through. Sometimes it's a complete oversight, sometimes there's a specific niche or interaction that makes a card good, and sometimes it's because of something difficult to predict. Typically, that thing is someone's dogged determination to make a card good guaranteeing that it sees play in spite of everything pushing against it. Today is an examination of such a card.
An Unexpected Audit
Ledger Shredder has been the card of May so far. It is seeing play in every format and in a wide variety of deck types within said formats. The price shot up following release and has been sustained so far. An extremely solid debut.
And yet it really didn't make waves during spoiler season. There was some chatter and it was rated well for Standard play but didn't seem to be a marquee card. At least not in the way that would indicate how much play it is actually seeing. So what happened?
I can't speak for anyone else, but while writing my preview articles, I spent longer thinking about Shredder than any other card. Ultimately, I decided that I just wasn't sure enough to make a statement. The problem was that a 1/3 flier for 2 needs a really good ability to be constructed playable. And there was no way to know if connive was actually constructed playable just by looking. It looked (and is) extremely powerful in limited, but constructed? I just didn't know.
The issue is that connive is looting plus a cookie. It's a tasty cookie, and looting effects are absolutely playable in Modern, particularly repeatable ones. However, this effect was conditional and constrained. Looting multiple times a turn is extremely strong, as Faithless Looting will attest. The only way Shredder can do that is with the opponent's help. How often would that happen, and how often would you get to cast multiple spells with Shredder out? Especially with only three toughness.
On the other hand, Modern has Mishra's Bauble to trigger Shredder the turn it's played. And there are lots of decks that play lots of cheap spells. However, those decks that might want to loot for value are getting Tainted Indulgence. With so many unknowns, I didn't feel like I could make an informed statement beyond "Maybe?" and there were more interesting cards to hand that label.
Which is where I still am. I'm gathering the data and Shredder is putting up decent numbers in Modern. It's concentrated in one deck and isn't exactly consistent, but Shredder does appear to be a Modern card. However, I'm still really flat on Shredder. The problems with Shredder that had me spinning in circles haven't actually been solved, just sidestepped. And while it's had a decent run, the momentum appears to be faltering. Shredder is a good card. I'm skeptical that it is a good enough card.
Based on what I've seen both playing against the card and watching streams, I'd classify Shredder as a niche role-player. Think of a cog wheel rather than power plant or output. It's not directly an enabler nor an engine because it requires a constant stream of other cards to make it do anything. Can it enable graveyard synergies, yes. Will it do so reliably and especially powerfully, no. It can only put one card in the graveyard per turn, and only if you've played two spells already. Which probably grew the 'yard decntly as it is.
That also limits how fast Shredder can grow. Unlike Sprite Dragon, Shredder can get at most +2/+2 a turn. And most likely won't because the opponent has to help. Shredder may not even get +1/+1 per turn because Shredder only gets the counter if a nonland card is discarded. Which is fine in matchups where certain cards are bricks, but in pure attrition matchups, that's not optimal.
Greasing the Wheel
Consequently, Shredder has not had much success as a stand-alone threat or deck centerpiece. It's just too limited and conditional. Instead, it's seeing considerable play in decks that were already doing the things that Shredder needs to happen as a prize for durdling and to facilitate more durdling. Turns out that a card that rewardsd burning through cards and helps make it happen is pretty good in decks that like to burn through cards.
Plenty of players have tried to make Shredder work in their deck. However, the only deck that has consistently continued to do so is UR Murktide. That deck loves to cast multiple cards a turn. It kind of has to thanks to Expressive Iteration. However, often it was durdling for its own sake. Murktide doesn't play many catch-alls or come-from-behind spells. It's all about incremental advantage, having the right answer at the right time, and massive Murktide Regents. Shredder is all about helping with all those things and needs no special accommodation.
More importantly, it does so while being able to attack and block, which Murktide actually really needs. The deck has a core of 12 creatures and rarely plays more than 14. It wants to either ride an early Ragavan or slam and protect a beastly Murktide, without much in between. When the opponent successfully answers said plans, Murktide often struggles to actually do anything to advance the game. Shredder being a way to win that fits into the existing gameplan is invaluable.
What Is Shredder Doing?
How effective is Shredder in UR Murktide depends on who you ask. There are certainly those being hyperbolic about its impact. There are also those taking a more level-headed approach. It's a good card in Modern's most popular deck that performs a useful function making the deck better. There are also plenty of examples of Shredder being mediocre to essential to the deck. I've never seen it be actually bad in games which were plausibly winnable. It is amazingly bad as a late game topdeck, it has to be said.
Subsequently, this has meant that Shredder is also seeing wild swings in maindeck numbers. Some are running full sets, others only two. When Shredder started making itself felt in Modern, four was the most common number. That's fallen down to two as of last week. Drawing them late with an empty hand is a big problem, as is them taking up slots for non-creature spells.
Is Shredder Good?
As for the impact of playing Shredder... it depends. UR Murktide's numbers are relatively down compared to last month. It's still on track to be the no. 1 deck online by a decent margin, but it isn't currently in outlier territory. Events are down in May and Murktide had some bad Challenges, keeping it from pulling away. It had already started happening this time in April, so Murktide's momentum may have finally broken.
As for observed win rates, the story's the same. Murktide continues to put up decent numbers but doesn't win events with any regularity. It's a great deck for placing highly but not really for taking down the event. That was true in April and it will most likely be true for May as well. So no measurable impact there.
There are still Murktide decks that don't play Shredder, providing a control group. And said control group is substantially larger than the experimental group. I'm unsure of the exact numbers but Murktide players choose not to run Shredder at a rate at least 2:1. And their performance is not sufficiently worse than the Shredder players to say it's wrong not to play Shredder. 3/5 of the Murktide players in the last Challenge had Shredder, and they did better than the non-Shredder players. However, in Preliminaries and older Challenges, there was no correlation between Shredder and final placement. Meaning, the best answer I can give is that Shredder is okay? I guess?
What Does It Mean?
I think that Ledger Shredder will be a part of Modern for the foreseeable future. It's a new card in a good deck that's doing well. In the longer term, that's harder to say. All role-players rise and fall over time as competition in their niche changes and/or metagame pressures change and evolve. Given that the only proven home for Shredder is a single deck, I'd be stunned if Shredder maintains its place over the long haul.
This has little to do with the power of Shredder itself. As noted, it's a fine but not spectacular card. The problem is that it is entirely dependent on the Turbo-Xerox style games that Murktide plays to be good. Should anything happen to UR Murktide, be that a fall in popularity/viability or banning, Shredder will certainly fall right with it. There's no other deck that incorporates it so well, and if Murktide goes away I struggle to believe that its style of gameplay would survive.
QS having been started as a finance site, I feel that it is logical to end on some financial advice. So here it is: Shredder is a solid investment so long as it remains in Standard. It sees a decent amount of play in Standard decks and demand will keep the price up. Pioneer is where Shredder sees the most play thanks to Izzet Phoenix, and that's unlikely to change. However, Pioneer isn't popular enough on its own to maintain the prices I'm seeing for Shredder. Once the pressure from Standard is gone, the price will certainly fall.
Modern and Legacy won't be enough to make up for falling out of Standard. Shredder may not be viable in Modern by that time and Shredder isn't really catching on in Legacy. That might change over the next two years, but I wouldn't count on it. If you're planning on making a profit on Shredder, do so quickly. However, there's always the chance for it to get support down the line making speculation plausible.
Taking the Long View
It's dangerous for a card to hitch all its horses to one wagon. Through no fault of its own, that's exactly what's happened to Ledger Shredder and it will ride or die with UR Murktide. Which way that will go depends on currently unforeseeable changes in Modern, but if you're on the train I'd advise you to enjoy the ride while you can.