Friday 15 February 2019
Undergrowth Dredge .dec
I have never really managed to get a good cube dredge deck, which isn't a huge surprise. There isn't the redundancy for such things and it would be wildly inconsistent as a result of just having singleton copies of the payoff and synergy pieces for lists like they have in vintage and legacy. Dredge cards get used here and there but I have never made or seen a successful cube dredge deck in that style. I still haven't but I have made the first bits of progress towards such ends. Although I made a functioning deck I wound up massively culling all bar one of the dredge cards and wouldn't feel like it was missing much if the last one went as well. While this deck might have been good it doesn't seem useful for anything much. I just don't see the occasion you can build or draft this kind of deck and have that be a good plan. The deck has limited interaction which doesn't greatly help it but it has bigger problems than that. Mainly it is going to really struggle in a constructed event where any sort of sideboards exist. Or indeed in a draft where information is a thing. A Tormod's Crypt is going to savage this list pretty hard. A Leyline of the Void is probably just game over if you follow it with anything at all. Most of the cards in this list are far too low powered an narrow to ever be in a drafting cube and trying to force them in would be madness! Lastly the mana for this deck is so demanding that you are going to really struggle without the premium lands and that is going to be incredibly hard to achieve in any sort of draft of cards.
So what is this deck? What is it doing and given all the problems with it I just stated, why? It started out life as a dredge deck in design and wound up being much more of an undergrowth deck. It just fills up the bin with dorks as quickly as possible and abuses that mostly to make free weenies and wildly undercost fatties. The real challenge for this deck was keeping the creature count high while managing to fit in all the functionality required. It meant playing lots of bad cards like Hapless Researcher over good cards like Mental Note. Most lists are considered creature heavy at 40% (16/40) while very few lists indeed manage to get to 50% creature count. Such things are just impractical in most cases. This list really needs it for the scaling. I tried a couple of builds with a range of 55% to 62.5% creatures. Below is my best amalgamation of the two sitting at a pretty 60% dork count. Combined with a reasonable number of sac lands your effective deck density of dorks is nicely high and allows for some lovely undergrowth synergies.
There is another balance to be struck between the three kinds of dorks that recur from the bin, that benefit from a full bin, and that fill up the bin. The more you have in the first group the more you hurt the second group. Luckily the last group empower both of the others and so that is the main focus. You need some recursive dorks to empower sacrifice mechanics but they are very rarely game winning by themselves. Each of the different recursive dorks needs specific conditions to be met in order to come back and so each tends to send you in different directions regarding support cards. The best free graveyard cards are the ones with the most relevant bodies but obviously those are the hardest to get back. The emphasis on cheap creatures is to assist Vengevine. Both the BB recursive dorks are there primarily to help get back Amalgam although they are fine for some nibble damage and as sacrificial dudes. You could possibly cut most or all of this recursion package and focus more on having high undergrowth with the right payoff cards in hand. We shall get to the possible directions later, for now here is my amalgamated list to describe the archetype;
Birds of Paradise
Minister of Inquiries
Champion of Wits
Golgari Grave Troll
Scourge of Nel Toth
City of Brass
The list is part way between a combo deck and beatdown deck. It is actually much more like modern and cube Hollow One decks than anything else. Both are trying to abuse synergies to empower the deployment of undercost threats and both heavily use the graveyard. This list is more reliant on the graveyard and benefits more from being many colours but it does have a lot more options than Hollow One builds. It is a lot of fun to play assuming you are not facing graveyard hate! It is generally a little less explosive than the Hollow One decks but it does pack a lot more punch and carries on scaling throughout the game. The only really significant difference between the cards you can run in this deck and those you can run in a Hollow One deck are the result of the differences between a self mill focus and a looting focus. Self mill is typically cheaper than looting as a way of filling up the bin but doing so prevents the use of cards like Flameblade Adept and of course the Hollow One. With most of best and quickest looting cards being spells the Hollow One deck is a natural fit for Arclight Phoenix. This list needs to push the creature count to the max and so cannot really entertain such things.
The Anger and Wonder combo actually reduce the value of a number of the recursive threats. All the good red Phoenix already have both flying and haste and so their poor synergies make them less worth a slot. The Incarnations are the best bit of the deck and a big part of what makes it so lethal. With most of your deck in the bin you can pretty reliably expect to be able to play or Dread Return a Splinterfright or Golgari Grave Troll into play which will be large enough to one shot people. It is a bit like the old Sutured Ghoul decks in extended Reanimator many many years back before threats got good enough on their own. Literally Akroma was the best recursion target if you were not empowering a Ghoul! Anyway, I digress. Anger and Wonder are amazing but they put a huge burden on your mana base. You simply can't play them if you don't have the good land support and the deck dumps some value at that point. Dragon Breath is a potential alternative to Anger but it is a lot worse. Your spell count is precious and so the type difference between Breath and Anger is an issue as well as the functional differences.
While on the topic of the non-creature spells we might as well cover the two that wound up getting play. Faithless Looting is just all round amazing. It gives you good graveyard filling potential, it lets you get things out of your hand in a controlled way, it is still useful if milled directly into the bin and it is super cheap letting you get into things right away. It is a meek spell but it is the perfect support card. Dread Return is the opposite. It is a bit like cheating, you just get to put cheap useless crappy dorks into the bin and pull out massive game ending ones for free. No mana cost, no card cost, and based on the nature of the deck, something you will see every game before too long! One of the most reasonable cards to be banned in modern!
I really wanted to play Cabal Therapy for that free from the bin feel and also for its ability to sacrifice something in play I wanted dead like a Stitcher's Supplier but it is just too much of a luxury. You have no real idea what they are up to and one blind guess isn't the kind of disruption this deck needs. Just play an Assasin's Trophy or Thoughtsieze if you want disruption. Those will provide far more mileage despite having zero synergy. Collective Brutality is likely the best disruption card is it offers the discard synergy and has both hand and creature hitting modes. It is space efficient and not a total drain on your synergies. Spider Spawning was the other card I really wanted to play but it just isn't the deck for it. Five mana is a lot for the initial cast and seven is just wishful for the recursion. This list doesn't need to get over three mana. I will be doing an article on a less all in version of this deck that is much slower and fewer colours. It will be an undergrowth Golgari midrange affair and it will be able to put Spider Spawning to far better use. It has Crypt of Agadeem which is a spicy undergrowth payoff this tempo list can't exploit. Izoni, Thousand-Eyed is the way to go for this list as you can recur him with the Dread Return for free. The thing is, you don't need him either. Cards like Splinterfright are just better at putting stats into play given their low cost. Izoni is again, better suited to the slower undergrowth plans. Either that or ones that will abuse Phyrexian Altar and Goblin Bombardment in some exotic combo.
So other than the incarnations (Anger and Wonder) and the couple of spells what is good in this list, what are the payoffs for playing so many do nothing self mill gribblies and so few spells? There are two kinds of payoff, the cards that come back from the bin on the cheap and those that become either cheap or massive as a result of a bin full of dorks. In the first group we have Vengevine, Prized Amalgam, Bloodghast, Nether Shadow and Scourge of Nel Toth. All bar the Scourge are pretty low power but they all share two things in common. None of them cost mana to recur and none eat your bin so as to recur either. Both of these things are important and why a number of reasonably good looking options are missing. Mostly these freely recurred dorks empower the Scourge and the Dread Return. They do some chip damage and assist in going wide, providing Wrath protection, that sort of thing. They are not your haymakers or the main focus of the deck. They are more like support cards themselves in many ways even though they need support in working efficiently. It just so happens that the support you play for your main group of payoff cards also supports them and so they become low cost additions. I occasionally chose not to recur them so as to keep sufficient undergrowth for whatever reason.
The focus of the deck is the payoff cards in the latter group. Your cheap undergrowth dorks in the form of Moulderhulk and Ghoul Tree one thee one hand. These are mostly just big and fat but they are abusive when combined with the incarnations. A flying hasting one mana 10/10 is a big step up on what the conventional ceiling on Ghoul Tree is. Moulderhulk was also really good despite being more expensive and smaller. Most of this was a result of how good Cephalid Coliseum is in the deck. Worth playing in a non-land slot if you can't make the mana base work while counting it as a land. The land has never been a bad one and it was the best I have seen it be in this deck by a big margin. It was sacrificed about once a game on average. It was sacrificed nearly 100% of the times it was put into play. Much as these cost reduction threats are nice I didn't feel the need to go all the way to Nemesis of Mortals. Although loads of the deck could have the undergrowth keyword it turns out this list also only has this one card baring the namesake of the deck!
These big payoff cards were great. They gave impressive game ending potential and made the deck impressively threat dense. The star of the show was however the Scourge of Nel Toth. It recurs from the bin cheaply and is an impressive threat without need of empowerment. The sac utility was more of a perk than a drawback. It was the card you could mill into the bin and still easily win with and that made it great. The others you needed to get into the hand and cast or burn your Dread Return on. This made them harder to rely on and more demanding on your game plan. I spent a long time toying with Lotleth Giant. He fits the combo element quite well and can make Dread Return lethal without the need of a combat step. Sadly I think I was trying too hard as if this isn't his deck he probably has no deck. In reality you have plenty enough good threats you can expect to cast that you don't need the Giant.
Beyond that everything was just the cheapest and most effective self mill I could find on the creatures in these colours. I rather liked that aspect of the deck and would change little. There are a few cute cards I might consider as additions in this group too. Mostly they are spells. There are effective but costly options like Cathartic Reunion or the braver Burning Inquiry style of things. I tend to prefer the Impulse style cards that fill up the yard as well in this list. Grisly Salvage is the most potent of those on offer but I would start with Tracker's Instincts as you can use it from the bin. The more cards you include that are blanks in the graveyard the lower the value of your self mill. This list basically only cares about creatures and things with flashback. It has one card that gets back land at you can manage that without needing to mill lands away.
The one drop dorks that fill the bin are all lock in cards. There are no more that seem at all good so you play all the ones you can. The two drops are a little more changeable but I quite like the range and balance my selection offers. You basically either get high self mill or good utility. Glowspore is mediocre, you frequently don't use the ability but it is still nice to have the option. Fuana Shaman is great but it is so slow both in filling the yard and just in general. The pair together give a nicer average of what you want. Likely the most cuttable support dork is the Champion of Wits as at three mana you want to be doing more than setup and especially more than two cards worth of it. Eternalize is certainly not a thing you should look to be doing! Looting is amazing however as it lets you get those cheap fatties into hand.
The deck was great fun and much much harder to play than I expected. A total lack of experience of decks like it almost certainly added to the difficulty I had in playing it. I certainly threw some games with poor play. It is entirely possible I threw even more and didn't even spot my error. Like I said at the start, this deck is a bit of an oddity as I don't know what kind of format it is useful for. All told, that isn't that big of an issue. It is like science for science sake! I learned things, I had fun and perhaps one day I will find more "useful" places to apply the results of this exercise to. The deck is also very powerful. It crushed every fair deck and most of the unfair ones. That is however a lot more meaningless with the inviable nature of this build. Especially given how weak this is to sideboard hate and how poor it is at dealing with problems. You can beat this with a Leyline but you can also just beat it with an Ensnaring Bridge. Power only means something if you can usefully deploy it and this deck will struggle with that. Too much fun not to play around with if you get the chance though. I will certainly be revisiting this and undergrowth things like it again. For reference her is a list of cards I looked at and considered or just made a note of so as to facilitate alternate directions. Some even got played in one of my two versions although they range from the potent to the crap and the suitable all the way through to the wacky;
Nemesis of Mortals
Grapple with the Past
Magus of the Bazaar
Song of the Damned
Crypt of Agadeem
Avatar of Woe
Survival of the Fittest
Commune with the Gods
Sidisi, Blood Tyrant
Bridge from Below