“The Cutting Room Floor: Manaless Unplugged, Vol. I”
“And… this deck is dead.”
This was a comment I had read in regards to my tournament report from the January NELC. After reading and letting that sink in for a little while I asked myself, “Is this deck really dead? Is it time to hang up the boots?” Well, that’s kind of a hard realization to come to. You see, when you’ve played a deck for as long as someone like me or Bryant Cook has, they become part of you. Each one of you reading this right now probably at some point or another put a lot of hard work and energy into a deck that you not only felt comfortable playing, but comfortable competing with on a larger scale. I picked this deck up at a time when my Magic career (and future) was uncertain, and I succeeded greatly with it.
I personally could care less about being typecast. If I’m forever associated with this archetype and its counterparts, or even just a footnote in the game’s storied history, that’s a tremendous accomplishment in my perspective. That simple comment has not only driven me to rekindle success with this archetype, but to play out of my absolute mind. I feel like dredging up some victories, and if you do too, this is what you want to be reading right now. Let me be entirely clear with you: Manaless Dredge is one of the most powerful decks to exist on a level playing field in the history of Legacy. There is little (if any) interaction with your opponent and you’re playing the game on your own terms.
That to me is something unprecedented and if piloted correctly can be virtually unstoppable. Today we’re going to look at some sample Manaless Dredge hands, how to play them and also how to sideboard correctly.
[Editor’s note – click any of blue card names or featured card images to view and purchase the card from Jupiter Games!]
Okay, so we need to start someplace where we’re all on the same page. There are a variety of different lists floating around the internet, but they all are predicated on a core group of cards that I mentioned in my very first article (and in my Dredge primer on MTG: The Source). We’ll eschew that for now and look at my current list to get everyone up to speed with where I am with the deck:
As you can see there have been some big changes made to the sideboard. Let’s talk a little about those changes before diving into some sample situations with the deck.
As most of you are aware by this point, fast combo has certainly made a comeback into the meta as a result of “fair” decks making their presence felt, decks like Jund, Junk and BUG. Even with Deathrite Shaman creeping around those decks still don’t have a positive match-up against Manaless Dredge, so it’s basically a non-issue in my book. This is a time-tested analysis and one that anyone who has played the deck for an extended period of time understands.
Mindbreak Trap serves multiple functions in this deck. First and foremost is the obvious utility the card has against decks like Storm and High Tide. Traditionally, Storm has always been a difficult match-up for Manaless Dredge, but with Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void not making a huge impact in sideboards right now there really isn’t a reason to take up extra space in our sideboard for cards that are difficult to cast like Nature’s Claim (which necessitates having to have your one basic Forest in play or an active Dryad Arbor). We’re a deck with few available resources to draw mana from, and we should accept that as reality.
With that being said, Mindbreak Trap is a blowout waiting to happen. Because we only have fifteen available cards in our sideboard to work with and not much mana to use, we are looking for redundant answers to our worst match-ups. Deathrite Shaman is the least of our worries, really. You’ve got a multitude of ways to handle it and shouldn’t have much of an issue dealing with it.
I’ve also heard people say that using removal to kill it is like double-Time Walking yourself. That may be true…but what deck that currently runs Deathrite Shaman can kill you in two turns in the event you kill their creature and have to draw two cards before being able to discard first? The answer is not many, and the truth is that on paper the Storm match-up looks far worse than it really is.
Mr. Cook can attest to that.
To sum it up: Mindbreak Trap is excellent as a free card that does exactly what we need it to in order to create a set of favorable circumstances for us. This may now be one of the most important cards to find its way into the sideboard.
An oldie but goodie, Chancellor of the Annex was a card I used to run in old Manaless Dredge a few years ago. Back then, the card worked reasonably well as its ability became relevant against various types of hate. In one match, my opponent mulled to five cards and after I revealed the Chancellor at the beginning of the game he completely forgot it and ran out a Wheel of Sun and Moon on his turn two, countering it in the process.
I noticed that Gerry Thompson also wrote a bit about Chancellor in his article earlier this week, which was neat to see. However after playing this card extensively, I can tell you that it just isn’t necessary in most game ones right now. The Storm match-up on paper may look unwinnable, but after years of experience, and more recently in our local event having played against Storm three times, Chancellor was only marginally effective. Mindbreak Trap in that scenario provided the necessary redundancy which makes these two cards together really nasty and forces the Storm player to be extra cautious when walking into this match-up.
This is also where Therapy shines, because if they Silence during your turn to stop you from ripping their hand apart with it, it will only result in you exiling all of their spells with a Mindbreak Trap during their turn… unless of course they have multiple Silences, which is rather unlikely. Your Storm match-up is actually not as bad as you’d think it is. It takes an incredibly good (and lucky) draw for an opponent to actually kill you on turn one. In the event an opponent draws that capability, consider yourself protected with Mindbreak Trap as a definitive solution.
Chancellor counters some key turn one cards like Lackey, Brainstorm, discard spells, one-mana hate and much more. It’s really good out of the board, but I think the main is strong enough to support itself in that respect. Once the meta adapts to faster combo decks by spinning around back to blue control, that’s where we pick up the pieces and succeed again. Our core is very powerful and hard to break through, and Chancellor game one while a neat bonus isn’t absolutely necessary.
There has been a great debate of sorts with good-old Unmask as it pertains to how good it is in Manaless Dredge. Personally, I think it’s growing on me. What makes it really good is its ability to not only hit an opponent with a targeted discard spell but yourself as well. Of course, you’re exiling another card in your hand and that may mean giving up a few turns to do so. I think it’s better to wait until you discard on turn one before casting this spell on your turn two, as it can really surprise an unprepared opponent.
Also note that Unmask does more than just force someone to discard a card. Relic of Progenitus, while seeing occasional play, also has to deal with Unmask on your turn one when being put into the play. With a dredger and the Unmask sitting in the ‘yard as fodder, you can proceed as planned by dredging either slowly or quickly depending on the match-up. This will force an opponent to activate their Relic at a time when they may not want to, and you have a shot to recover in the event that happens.
Unmask can be a great card for a variety of reasons, and I like how it functions as both a proactive discard spell against control decks and reactive discard spell against troublesome hate. It’s at the very least worth a look right now and I feel it warrants some further consideration as a Manaless sideboard staple.
Manaless Dredge is an incredibly hard deck to play, and even harder to sideboard with. Sideboards are always open to interpretation, folks. If you feel like you want to try something else out by all means do it. If it works for you, that’s even better. The format will adjust, and when it does, you need to be ready. Right now Storm is our archenemy, not Deathrite Shaman like so many people proclaim it to be.
Let’s shift gears now to some in-game analysis of Manaless Dredge and how the deck works. Let’s assume we’re running against BUG with Deathrite Shamans at the ready. We’ve won the roll, and obviously elected to draw first. Our opponent has been tipped off and mulligans his first hand.
We then take a look at our seven, and here’s how it shapes up:
Stinkweed Imp, Phantasmagorian, Contagion, Nether Shadow, Shambling Shell, Dread Return, and Flayer of the Hatebound
Nothing too out of the ordinary here: just a few dredgers and a Contagion, perfect for the possible hate-bear. Our opponent decided to keep their six cards, and the game begins with a fetch retrieving a Bayou. The Bayou is tapped and a Deathrite Shaman hits the board. Our opponent is now down to four cards in their hand, likely another land and some sort of useless removal, leaving two likely unknowns. (Note our opponent fetched up a Bayou and not an Underground Sea. This definitely tips us off to a hand without Daze; they needed to drop that Shaman immediately.) Keeping this in mind, we take our turn and draw a card which happens to be another Nether Shadow.
And so the question beckons: Do we remove the Shaman now or wait to discard a Phantasmagorian and do it once they activate it?
We can look at this in one of two ways. If our opponent is hell-bent on removing that Phantasmagorian or whatever we discard to it, it won’t make much difference if our graveyard is filled up. On the other hand, we can discard that Phantasmagorian and then during our opponent’s upkeep we can kill it. In this instance, we have now just put ourselves in a much better situation by being able to discard our goodies and killing the critter before he does anything relevant.
So we take the latter line of play and discard Phantasmagorian. Then during our opponent’s upkeep, we pitch a Nether Shadow (remember, we have one in our hand and we have to ensure that our dredging will continue through Shell in the event we whiff on Imp). We Contagion-out the dude, and he opts not to use the Shaman.
Smart play. You see, our opponent knew that by tapping their green source they would be simply robbing themselves of playing something relevant on their turn two because they knew we would be filling up our yard and returning the savage discarding monster to our hand. It would be pointless, basically. After doing nothing relevant, our opponent passes and we clean up in a turn or two.
The point of this example is to illustrate the difference between good and bad play. We can’t always assume our opponents are dumb people, but smart and with a good mind for what they want to do. If something like this catches you off guard, then you’re not thinking ahead clearly. You need to be able to anticipate your opponents’ plays, including them reacting to your own, and understand how these plays can come back to haunt you at a certain point in a game. It takes knowing what you’re doing to be successful in this format, and if you’re just mindlessly strolling through a game because you think Manaless Dredge will just steamroll someone because you’ve heard it does that… you’re in for a big surprise.
And it’s not a good one.
Our next example will look at a game three against Storm. We’ve won game one on the heels of some massive discard and just lost game two by getting gold-fished turn one without any help. Game three begins and we draw our seven cards:
Chancellor of the Annex, Street Wraith, Golgari Thug, Mindbreak Trap, Bridge from Below, Cabal Therapy, and Ichorid
We like it, and it has a nice touch with Cabal Therapy and Ichorid to supplement the hate we have. Scarily enough, our opponent snap-keeps their hand. However, little do they know we run Chancellor of the Annex. You see, we run it out of the board and our opponent got no information game two by killing us turn one. This could set them back in the event they’re unprepared for it.
We start the game off by revealing a Chancellor, to which our opponent tanks for a minute as we’ve just changed the entire dynamic of the game. They think for a second and make a play, a Gemstone Mine to pay for a Gitaxian Probe. They see our hand at the cost of the mana and two life. They get the draw and pass the turn.
We draw our card for the turn and it’s a good one: Street Wraith. We proceed to the end of our turn and discard a Phantasmagorian. Our opponent takes their turn, draws and plays a fetch. They then Ponder (one spell) off the Mine. They keep the card and drop a fetch, only to crack it and look for an Underground Sea.
Now remember this is a huge tip-off here. Our opponent kept their card and shuffled away the rest, which means it has got to be something good. Our opponent then casts a Lotus Petal (two spells) and declares, “Storm is two.” They then cast a Dark Ritual (three spells – mental fist-pump). Storm is now irrelevant in our minds, as we can Trap them out, which we do once the Petal cracks for red mana into Rite of Flame and Ad Nauseam is hard-cast. Once we blow-out our opponent, we then proceed to go bonkers with our cards the following turn.
We’ve got to be wondering if our opponent found that crucial acceleration spell or Ad Nauseam on the top of their deck, which they probably did. But that’s what the deck does sometimes; they know we don’t run any counter-magic and just decided to win the game right then and there. Fortunately, there’s more to it than this.
Our opponent defeated us so quickly in game two that they weren’t able to conclusively determine what we were sideboarding into for game three. The idea here is to take full advantage of our available resources to shore this match up by having redundancy in our boards to stop them from killing us quickly. Would a Silence have ensured our deaths? It’s hard to say. We forced our opponent to tap their mana on turn one to play a spell they probably weren’t intending on paying mana for, which changed slightly the way the game played out. Which might not have mattered in the overall scheme of things, we had the answers.
This is why Chancellor alone might not be worth it in this match-up. The Storm player can afford to pay a mana for their cards like Chrome Mox, Lotus Petal and Gitaxian Probe, but when they do and pass the turn you’re still discarding and waiting the next turn to try and kill them (or rip their hand apart). With Trap you can just wreck them with nothing else to worry about.
There really is no contest between Force Spike and a big Mind Twist in this match-up, which for all intents and purposes is what Chancellor and Mindbreak Trap represent here. With Trap you’re depleting an opponent of their Storm buildup and knocking out their key spells when they’re cast. That’s huge and something that simply cannot be ignored.
We’ll look next week at some more match-ups with Manaless in the second volume of Unplugged. But on a personal note, I’d just like to say as far as I’m concerned Manaless is here to stay, is far from “dead” and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This deck is incredibly resilient and terrifyingly consistent. This coming weekend at the Invitational Qualifier in southern New York, I’ll be sure to prove that again by officially qualifying with my horde of the undead.
It’s party time!