Dear readers, the reason you tuned in to Swimming with Sharks this week:
|Counterbalance – Next Level Blue|
|Gaea's Might Get There|
|Counterbalance – Original|
|Red Deck Wins|
Let us begin with a few words on our Top 8 chart for the week. Sixteen decks... Three blue envelopes? Is that a misprint? Sadly... not really. Somehow we here at Swimming with Sharks only got Top 8 decks from two PTQs, and one of them was mysteriously down a list (15/16). The supplemental sixteenth little box, an out of place third blue envelope, belongs to onetime Grand Prix–Charlotte Top 8 competitor and Star City Games columnist Tom LaPille, who was playing a hybrid Next Level Blue deck initially designed by spirit guide and Worlds Finalist Patrick Chapin, developed in collaboration with Gerry Thomson.Tom LaPille's Next Level Blue
This update to Next Level Blue shows significant development over the Chapin and Turtenwald lists we discussed last week. Tom was back to Spell Snares rather than Force Spikes, and returned the Trinket Mage package from the original style of Counterbalance (more reminiscent of Fortier's deck from the Pro Tour) instead of Chapin's Living Wishes. In this deck, Trinket Mage could search up Chrome Mox for acceleration, Tree of Tales to hit a land drop (or set up a Tarmogoyf when wanting green mana), or find bullets like Engineered Explosives against Gaea's Might Get There, Pithing Needle against Pernicious Deed, Sensei's Divining Top 'cause mise (that is, to complement Counterbalance), or Tormod's Crypt against Dredge.
The defining and more unique element of this deck, though, was tons and tons of Control Magics! Tom ran both Vedalken ShacklesandThreads of Disloyalty main, and sided in Sower of Temptation for something like nine ways to steal the opponent's creatures. Global Ruin was yet another innovation (probably something that came out of nowhere for most of Tom's opponents), an interesting weapon to say the least given today's Extended mana bases. Lastly, a singleton Steam Vents (powered out by the eight-pack of Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta, Island-finders all) allowed for three copies of the onetime best card in Extended, Ancient Grudge, to compliment Tom's essentially straight blue strategy out of the sideboard.
Down in Kentucky, Gaea's Might got there once again. Zach Stratton did it with this look at Domain Zoo, again a flexible combination of last year's Grand Prix super deck and the cheap power of Dark Confidant:Zach Stratton
1st Place - Kentucky - Louisville - 1/26
Stratton had to get past Dredge in the Kentucky finals; no doubt he was helped by the combination of main deck and sideboard Gaddock Teegs, Yixlid Jailer, and Mogg Fanatic. Gaddock Teeg might look like a vanilla two-drop in a matchup where one player basically never plays a spell, but don't forget that he shuts off four-mana spells... even when they cost nothing to play. Therefore the Kithkin Advisor can give thumbs down to Dread Return played from the graveyard; no Narcomoebas get sacrificed, no tokens are produced by Bridge from Below, and no Flame-Kin Zealot or Akroma, Angel of Wrath comes hasty from the nether. Gaddock Teeg is not a perfect solution to Dredge because that deck can answer a 2/2 with Chain of Vapor or Darkblast, but he certainly buys a fair amount of time. Gaea's Might Get There is a deck that can leverage even one or two turns into an easy win thanks to five-point Gaea's Mights and Tribal Flames. Yixlid Jailer is pretty self-explanatory: With this Zombie Wizard in play, Dredge cannot, you know, dredge, so its engine goes offline and no mischief gets managed; ditto on the back end of Dread Return. Until that 2/1 is removed from play, it's all mediocre 1/x flyers and crossed fingers from the Dredge side. Mogg Fanatic doesn't automatically win the matchup or anything, but don't forget that any quick way to remove a creature on your own side of the board can catch Bridge from Below, even when there is something saucy on the stack. Mogg Fanatic and Sakura-Tribe Elder are the biggest standouts in the Bridge-hosing category because they are always outstanding and double as self-contained Bridge destruction crews, but flexible thinking can be your friend here with a variety of decks and tools. If you are playing Doran, don't forget that a well-placed Smotheron your own Birds of Paradise might make the difference between stretching a game out another turn—possibly leveraging it into a bona fide win—and just packing it in on the fourth turn.
So what about Dredge? I have to admit that I was completely wrong with my prediction going into this season. Josh Ravitz may be right on this one. The boogeyman might just get ten wins on the season (I predicted, and horribly wrongly, that Dredge wouldn't muster a one)! Jeremy Manthei's victory in Houston represents the third (recorded) Dredge victory in North America this season, which leads all archetypes.Jeremy Manthei
1st Place - Texas - Houston - 1/26
Jeremy ran an extremely straightforward ten-land version of Dredge. All his lands tapped for all the colors, allowing him to play things like Tireless Tribe on the first turn to help out Putrid Imp... More quick outlets for Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp, and company. Note that this version could actually win on the first turn with the right draw...
City of Brass, tap it for U: Careful Study discarding two Golgari Grave-Trolls.
Cycle Street Wraith, electing to Dredge Golgari Grave-Troll, miraculously flipping over three Narcomoebas. Cycle the otherStreet Wraith, following up on the other Golgari Grave-Troll. Of course the remaining nine cards flipped by the Grave-Trolls are all butter: Bridges and Dread Return, for the sake of the story a Cephalid Sage, and of course, additional cards with the word "dredge" on them.
Play Dread Return from the graveyard (one of nine down), sacrificing the Narcomoebas, picking up Cephalid Sage. Six 2/2 tokens come from down Below, and the Sage, upon reaching play, begins the dredge cycle all over again, producing both the Flame-Kin Zealot and another Dread Return. Sacrifice the Sage along with two tokens and you have yourself eight 2/2 creatures, boosted to 3 power thanks to the Zealot... Attacking for 27 on the first turn might not be high percentage, but the fact that the deck can do it—a deck that will produce a fourth turn combo kill every game if left unfettered—seems awfully scary.
Not to diminish Jeremy's victory in any way, but his opposition in the Top 8 seemed a bit under-prepared for Dredge. There were a total of nine Tormod's Crypts, four Extirpates, four Leylines, and one Yixlid Jailer (18 cards total) between the other six (known) decks in the Top 8... Only three "hate" cards apiece disregarding Trinket Mages. Dredge is obviously the most powerful and fastest deck in the format, winning an estimated 80% of Game 1s... The theory against it has always been that while its Chains should allow it to beat one Leyline of the Void or Tormod's Crypt in a particular game, the same could not be said for, say, fourteen. It looks like Dredge is going to be a staple of the format, popular in Top 8s, and an actual blue envelope winner on a regular basis... If that is the case, keep in mind that three or four anti-Dredge cards will probably not give the average deck enough resistance. I don't think that you can go the "If I win in the first two rounds, I don't have to worry about Dredge" route that was advocated by some early on; Dredge is obviously capable of taking down tournaments. Respect it, devote real sideboard slots to it, or you will probably regret that you didn't, late in what seems like a winnable event.
Of the decks that didn't actually win this week, my favorite has to be Jerret Rocha's Beasts Rock from the Top 8 of the Louisville PTQ:Jerret Rocha
7th Place - Kentucky - Louisville - 1/26
This deck is a hybrid of... exactly what it sounds like. Reminiscent of Jeff Novakoff's deck from PT–LA two years ago, Beasts Rock is a slow, mid-range Rock deck (not unlike Barra Rock), but it plays a Red splash, minimizing the more common white splash to one Loxodon Hierarch, one Kataki, and one Gaddock Teeg, all in the sideboard (and all Living Wish eligible). Rocha selected Beasts for most of his main deck business creatures, from the versatile (and potentially Dredge-hating) Ravenous Baloth to the enormous Spiritmonger. With those Beasts comes a powerful synergy with Contested Cliffs; Contested Cliffs provided Rocha a powerful method to control most creatures in the format without investing additional cards. I mean, who is going to beat up Spiritmonger?
The most unusual thing about this deck might be the absence of Tarmogoyf! Then next one in my mind is the selection of land in the sideboard. Jerret can find a land with Living Wish... Rocha's sideboard features Golgari Rot Farm, probably because if he needed to Wish for a land he would be anticipating missing multiple land drops (perfectly good reasoning). I think that the deck might get some benefit from sideboarding one of the four Contested Cliffs in order to find that key card more frequently. While Contested Cliffs in the sideboard neither produces both of the main colors in the deck (as Golgari Rot Farm does) nor implies multiple land drops, it is still another land that the deck can gain access to easily, and the potential upside is simply enormous.
Besides a solid amount of passive Bridge from Below resistance main (Sakura-Tribe Elder, Ravenous Baloth, and even the back side of Cabal Therapy), Jerret has four Pernicious Deeds in the starting 60 to mop up tokens. Dredge is fast, but it won't kill you before you can play a Deed every game! Additionally, Jerret can find either Gaddock Teeg or Yixlid Jailer main (depending on need); after sideboarding, he can supplement his strategy via four brutal copies of Leyline of the Void. All in all, especially for a methodical mid-range deck geared to dealing with other decks' monster threats, this one seems reasonably well prepared to fight Dredge. And really... What more can you expect of a deck that already has a solidly Rockin' proactive plan?
Don’t miss your chance to attend a MorningtideLaunch Party near you this weekend. Special "Midnight Madness" locations in North America will begin selling Morningtide at 12:01 a.m. on the set’s release date: this Friday, February 1, and events will continue throughout the weekend at participating stores. Besides getting your first chance to buy packs of Morningtide, you’ll also be able to play in Sealed Deck events and win cool prizes. And don’t forget, Morningtide is legal in Constructed on its release date!