The Cutting Room Floor: NELC Report – 1/19/13

“The Cutting Room Floor: NELC Report – 1/19/13”

For the last three years, Dredge, in any incarnation, has been the deck that has enabled me to achieve success in some of Legacy’s most prolific tournaments. Going into the January NELC, I gave some serious thought as to what deck I wanted to play. All I’ve heard for the last month is how good Deathrite Shaman is, and believe me, I know. Manaless Dredge, however, doesn’t have nearly as hard of a time playing against Deathrite Shaman as one may think.

Allow me to explain.

Deathrite ShamanSuppose you have a sixty-card deck that runs a full set of four Deathrite Shaman. Mathematically, you have a 39.95% shot of opening up with at least one copy of it in your starting hand. Conversely, the Manaless Dredge player has several options to counter the activated ability of Deathrite Shaman or kill it outright: Phantasmagorian, Street Wraith and Contagion – all included as a set, totaling twelve cards. Let’s assume you’re on the draw game one, which is very likely in an unknowing meta. This grants you an 80.94% shot of having at least one of these cards in your opening seven, with an even better 85.25% chance of drawing into one of these answers with your first pluck of the game.

Simply put: you have more than two times as good of a chance of drawing an answer to Deathrite Shaman (game one) in your opening hand than your opponent does in actually having one in his or her opening hand. Now it is possible that a game may begin without an answer to Shaman, and that’s okay. However, this creature is slightly overrated in this particular match-up where you have plenty of ways of circumventing its utility; it’s not like a main-deck Rest in Peace where you pretty much have to win before turn two or rework your entire plan to winning with Dryad Arbors game one.

With that being said, I decided to run Manaless at the January NELC to let the beast out one final time. You see much like Bryant Cook, when you play a deck for such a long time it grows on you; it becomes a part of you. And it’s hard to put it down when you feel confident with it as your default deck of choice. Interestingly enough, what used to drive me as a player was variety and irrational deck choices. Dredge helped me settle into a rhythm these last few years, and I’ve really enjoyed helping the archetype grow the best I can. But times have changed a bit, and I wasn’t feeling it in this event. 2012 was a successful year competitively for me and I owe a great deal of that to not only my play but to Dredge as well.

On to the event!

There were a grand total of eighty-seven players for this event, good for seven rounds of action, which is actually really good for the first NELC of the year in January. There were even some guys from the Virginia crew like Damon Whitby (or better known as “Parcher” from The Source; kind of like the “Emperor Palpatine” of Dredge players) that made the trek. The meta looked pretty diverse from folks sleeving up their decks and running out test games with Goblins, Elves and Junk decks all over the place. Not to be fooled, though: there were plenty of combo decks at this event to mitigate the presence of little beaters. It’s always a challenge at Jupiter Games, and this month was to be no different.

Round one pitted me against a familiar face in J.C. Wilbur, a friendly rival from the Ithaca crew of guys. This match was featured on camera, so be sure to check out Jupiter’s archived footage from the January NELC to see it for yourself! J.C. and I exchange some pleasantries and we both are fairly certain what the other guy is running, so there aren’t many surprises here. He’s been doing well with his Junk deck that is seeing lots of play right now, and for good reason: it is winning tournaments. J.C. has tons of hate for me, but I’m not fazed in the least bit. I treat every opponent as if they’re running a four Leyline, four Planar Void combination out of their board so I give them the benefit of the doubt.

Game one starts off with J.C. mulling to five, possibly looking for that Deathrite Shaman start. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get anything going and I am able to overwhelm him in short order by dredging and bringing back threats to attack him out. I Dread Return a Flayer of the Hatebound and just proceed to throw damage at his head from attackers and the Flayer. His only action of the game was an Abrupt Decay on a Zombie token, not overly efficient.

Game two featured a similar situation, except J.C., as anticipated, brought in a good number of hate cards against me. It was hard to gauge exactly what he was bringing in because of how many cards he was actually bringing in. For all I know at this point, he could be bringing in cards that have utility for otherwise “dead” choices. This doesn’t necessarily mean those are cards that flat-out beat me, but ones that can be minimally abrasive to my game plan.

+ 3 Sickening Shoal

– 1 Phantasmagorian
– 1 Griselbrand
– 1 Flayer of the Hatebound

My train of thought is usually based off redundancy in these match-ups in that I would much rather have more targeted removal against troublesome creatures than more copies of cards that are not decisively critical to win me games by themselves. I know J.C. is on Knight of the Reliquary, which is where Shoal shines over Contagion (which is still awesome here). With multiple ways of dealing with Deathrite Shaman, I felt prepared going into game two with removal and a strategy that still enables me to combo out quickly if I need to.

In game two, J.C. settled on his seven-card hand, but with some delay. You see, he kept a hand that was predicated on Deathrite Shaman, a Snow-Covered Forest and a Maze of Ith – and he paid for it. After I passed the turn with no action, I ensured its death by killing the Shaman with a Shoal. This did in fact “Time Walk” him twice, but I wasn’t concerned. Junk’s clock is relatively slow if it cannot get off to a fast start or one that is mitigated by targeted removal. I wound up drawing my next two turns, discarding and went crazy on him by bringing back Griselbrand.

Oddly enough, Cabal Therapy was used more on myself in this game (twice, to be exact) than my opponent as I needed to get dredgers into the graveyard from my hand. In doing so, I was able to dig down deep enough where I could Dread Return Flayer (four damage), Therapy sacrificing Flayer (five damage) and Dread Return one final Grave-Troll to seal the deal. I extend the hand and it’s a good start.

Standings after Round 1: 1-0-0

In round two, I get to play a Syracuse regular in Brian Finlayson-Schueler, otherwise known as “B.F.S.” in the local community. Brian is on his traditional Elves variant that I’ve played against numerous times and with great familiarity. In game one, he has to mulligan down to five in order to find something worthwhile to start the game off effectively with. His start is reasonably good as he pulls a Deathrite Shaman, Symbiote and Quirion Ranger out of his butt the first few turns. I did have removal for these creatures in multiples (two Contagions, to be exact), but I would have to slow him down enough to find that opening to win the game.

Eventually, I have a Phantasmagorian in my bin and Brian’s Shaman had to be recast because I attempted to kill it with Contagion, knowing full well he would bounce it back to his hand. I just wanted it to be sick so I could capitalize the following turn. The card I pitched with Contagion is what wound up killing me in the end: a Cabal Therapy. My graveyard the following turn had two Bridges, a Dread Return and a Griselbrand in it. My board state was a Narcomoeba I just dredged into play and a just-played Dryad Arbor. There were no other outlets in my graveyard to get those tokens necessary to Dread Return Griselbrand, and had I cast Therapy on myself, I would have binned a Troll, got the tokens and potentially ended the game right there.

A quick lapse of judgment in a tight one cost me game one, and I was nearly on tilt. Being the veteran, I had to remain cool and collected to win game two.

+ 3 Sickening Shoal

– 1 Phantasmagorian
– 1 Flayer of the Hatebound
– 1 Griselbrand

My sideboard strategy in this game was similar to round one in that I need to be able to deal with troublesome dudes. Brian is on the play and in a critical situation when he has an untapped Heritage Druid, a sick Llanowar Elves and a Fyndhorn Elves on the stack, I Shoal away his Druid and he is forced to pass the turn. In doing so I proceeded to Street Wraith into excellence and win the game with Griselbrand into my whole deck that turn.

Game three was very anticlimactic, as I opened with no dredgers and no removal and Brian was able to throttle me in short order. I decided to keep my hand as I had Phantasmagorian with Nether Shadows and Ichorids. I just needed that dredger to keep things going, but I couldn’t find any in three or four draws.

Standings after Round 2: 1-1-0

During a brief lunch break before round three, I did a lot of reflecting on Manaless Dredge and what the deck has meant to me. I never thought I’d say this, but something told me my time with the deck was starting to draw to a close. It just didn’t feel right playing it that day, and it had nothing to do with hate and all of that nonsense, because I’ve played through worse hate before and succeeded. In my mind, I feel like I’ve done all I wanted to do with it and reestablished it as a contender in the meta, even in the wake of such hate. I wanted to test the waters from here on out, give it my best shot and see if that was good enough.

In round three I was paired against Charles Wiper. Now Charles is a friendly face I’ve seen around the Jupiter circuit but never had the honor of playing against. He knows exactly what I’m on (which is another reason I’ve been reassessing my deck choice) yet I have no idea what he is on. As it turns out, he’s on “Shoal and Tell.” For those unfamiliar with that archetype, it’s a poison-based deck that uses Show and Tell, Blazing Shoal and Progenitus with Dream Halls to do some degenerate things. It’s a cute choice, but I felt confident going into this match with Contagions to blowout anything he’s going to try and attack me with.

Game one is rather anticlimactic as I am able to Dread Return Griselbrand into Flayer by turn four, with him mulling to six and not getting much going. I didn’t care about his counter-magic with the lack of interaction involved. Charles made mention of how he would have won under a certain set of circumstances, but that didn’t happen and it wouldn’t have mattered anyhow because the deck by its very nature is inconsistent with so many innocuous cards trying to plug themselves into a larger, more confusing equation.

+ 3 Sickening Shoal

– 1 Phantasmagorian
– 1 Griselbrand
– 1 Flayer of the Hatebound

I really didn’t get a chance to see what was going on in game one except for an Inkmoth Nexus and some Islands, so I was guessing he was on some sort of Infect variant. After getting some gas going early, Charles gets in there for one poison with a Nexus. He durdles for a few turns while I built up threats on the table. I can’t hit a Narcomoeba, which for some reason scared me a little bit. I have a Phantasmagorian in the graveyard, and after pitching three Stinkweed Imps, they all get Surgical Extraction’d out of my deck.

That definitely hurts.

Eventually, he tries to get there by attacking me with a Nexus while pitching a card with converted cost of eight to Blazing Shoal.

I Contagion his dude.

He Forces.

I Shoal.

He casts Pact of Negation.

I tally it up: that’s ten poison and good enough for a game three. The jig is up now and I’m aware what I need to do to stop this from happening next game. In game three, Charles started off with a decisively deep breath and shaky keep. I am on the draw, and he drops a surprise Leyline of Sanctity. His first turn also yields no lands, which shocks me to no end. This is a huge tell that he has a Surgical in his hand, perhaps multiples, but what he doesn’t know is that I have two Street Wraiths in my hand that wind up blowing this game open in short order.

Charles looks at his cards and extends the hand.

Standing after Round 3: 2-1-0

One of the best things I love about Manaless Dredge is watching my opponents mulligan; I’ve seen it time and time again. It happened in game one where J.C. decided to keep a hand with Deathrite Shaman and nothing else, which wound up costing him the entire match. The same thing happened in the previous round with Charles who kept a greedy hand in search of lands. Even without those Street Wraiths, I had other dredgers in my hand which would have mitigated that line of action. It didn’t make a difference because opponents of this archetype will do whatever is necessary including warping their hands to try and start with something bearing a proactive or reactive competitive semblance in nature.

The problem is: this deck doesn’t care because of how autonomous its hands are. It’s a well-oiled machine with chiseled consistency that cannot be matched under most circumstances. You’ve heard folks say this: “It was a good hand and I probably would have kept it if it were against anything else.” I hear this all the time, and when you’re on the draw it’s a beautiful advantage.

Round four pitted me against future Top Eight competitor Blayne Gibbons, who was very cordial and excited to be playing against me. It’s such a nice feeling when folks acknowledge you like that, because I respect my opponents as much as they respect me. Blayne came ready to play though, so I knew it would be a tough challenge.

I had no idea what he’s on, so I wound up keeping a solid hand with some good action in Phantasmagorian into a bunch of other stuff. Blayne starts off with a Trop and Volc, so I’m putting him on RUG (mental fist-pump). Unfortunately, he pitches a Simian Spirit Guide and casts Violent Outburst. He only has a few cards in his hand, and once he hits Hypergenesis he proceeds to drop Griselbrand into play. Unfortunately for him I do the same and proceed to dredge him out and strip his hand of a Shardless Agent blind off Therapy.

I make a comment to Blayne about how I believe him to be on Leyline of the Void, and he makes a comment about he cannot say. Fair enough. However, he makes a critical error in boarding by immediately going for four cards and putting them into his deck. Is he next-leveling me, or do I care? Either way, I go right to my board:

+ 4 Reverent Silence
+ 2 Verdant Catacombs

– 4 Contagion
– 1 Flayer of the Hatebound
– 1 Phantasmagorian

In order to combo out fast on Blayne, I needed to balance what I was taking out that would remove some speed but still allow me the ability to match forces with him in the event he casts Hypergenesis. Game two starts off with me on the play, Blayne dropping Leyline and a quick keep and pass. I’m eventually able to knock the Leyline out, but Blayne eventually finds his groove and capitalizes on my slower start by cascading into Hypergenesis and dropping Griselbrand, Emrakul and Progenitus into play. I couldn’t match his board state and it was on to game three.

In our third and deciding game, I needed to hope my opening hand hopefully had some anti-hate and lands…and it sure did. Unfortunately, Blayne yet again opens with a Leyline but not much else. I play my Arbor and cast Reverent Silence. Blayne Forces…and I play a second Silence which resolves. In building up my resources in hand, I was eventually able to get back to seven cards. It was too little, too late as Blayne hit runner-runner-runner (land-Agent-big dude) and narrowly escaped defeat. My hand included two Street Wraiths and a barrage of attackers, but it was a turn too late and I fall out of Top Eight contention.

I found myself contending against Leyline of the Void, a card that doesn’t see as much play as it used to. But there is a difference between beating a Leyline and beating an opponent, and that was on display in this match-up.

Standings after Round 4 2-2-0
Game Record 6-5-0

As the round five pairings were being printed, I was a bit disappointed having been so close in two separate rounds in tight game threes. Those are always the hardest to swallow because you look back to see what you could have done differently, when really there isn’t much you can do when tight play stands out over suboptimal selection. Sometimes Manaless Dredge gets those hands where your start is more predicated on what you draw as opposed to what you dredge, and my losses were distinct reflections of that ideology.

In my final round, I was paired interestingly enough against another Syracuse regular in Nick Patnode. Our rivalry is a fun one, and if you’ve read my reports over on The Source you’ll see that Nick and I always have close games. So I have to base my plan on Nick running Leyline, although I am suspect he may have possibly removed them in favor of his other choice: Relic of Progenitus. Game one wasn’t much of an affair, as Nick mulled to three and sucked up a quick loss when I was able to crush him under the Griselbrand-Flayer-Troll package, doming him for an arbitrary amount of damage.

+ 3 Reverent Silence
+ 2 Nature’s Claim
+ 1 Verdant Catacombs
+ 1 Forest
– 4 Phantasmagorian
– 1 Griselbrand
– 1 Flayer of the Hatebound
– 1 Dread Return

With a configuration that resembles something like this, I needed to be careful that I wasn’t over-committing slots to cards that don’t exist in Nick’s board, so I tried something a little different. As it turns out, Nick was not on Leyline on the Void so I was at least feeling a little better having left out the fourth Silence in favor of more land and Nature’s Claims. Nick started the game off with a Relic, which I was able to counter with a Street Wraith activation. Unfortunately, he had a second Relic to start the game off with and knocked me out cold with dueling activations.

I shifted my board back around a bit:

– 3 Reverent Silence
+ 3 Phantasmagorian

In game three, I put Nick on the play. He started the game off with a solid Mountain into Goblin Lackey. I have the Phantasmagorian and a Street Wraith in hand. Nick takes his turn, plays a land and attacks me. I tank for a minute and ask myself whether or not Nick actually has the Relic in his hand to blow me out if I decide to activate Phantasmagorian into Street Wraith into craziness. At this point I’m playing a little looser and decide to go for it. I pitch some cards and activate Street Wraith, whiffing on getting a Narcomoeba as a potential blocker and no Bridges to at least give me some tokens as attackers in the event he does have Relic to blow me out.

I have no blockers, and it doesn’t matter…Nick shows me the Relic and I extend my hand. I proceed to drop after this round with no shot of making the Top Eight.

Final Standings after Round 5 2-3-0
Game Record: 7-7-0

Jupiter always runs great tournaments and their NELC events are absolutely five-star quality tournaments that are worth attending. Lately, I’ve been really busy with life happening, which has in turn taken my attention away from the game and format I love so very much. I’ve been doing a lot thinking lately as to what endeavors I will pursue in 2013 and beyond, with some good ideas ready to go. Manaless Dredge in most folks’ eyes right now doesn’t seem to be well-positioned, and perhaps they’re right. Combo is really everywhere at the moment and cards like Rest in Peace and Deathrite Shaman, while beatable, still make winning tournaments harder and harder.

Legacy is such a diverse format that you never know what you’ll wind up playing against in a given tournament. As you can see I ran into Infect and Hypergenesis in back-to-back rounds and five different total archetypes in general. As rewarding and successful as my run has been, perhaps it’s time to set Dredge down for a while and move forward with something exciting and different that fits my style of play…

…and I’ve got just the ticket.

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