Revenge of the Living Dead
I placed second in the August 2016 Power 9 Challenge with a Vengeful Pharaoh variant of my Pitch Dredge deck. I was streaming the event live, and the video archive can be found in the embedded YouTube playlist at the bottom. But first, a few points of analysis.
Decklist and Card Choices
Pitch Dredge, by Adam Pierce - 2nd Place MTGO August 2016 P9 Challenge
Vengeful Pharaoh – Vengeful Pharaoh is primarily an anti-Shop, anti-Eldrazi card. It has applications in other matchups as well, but it is practically tailor-made to fight Ancient Tomb decks. These decks rely on attacking multiple times with a low number of creatures which are well-protected by a stockpile of land destruction, cost increasers, and other disruptive effects such as Phyrexian Revoker and Thought-Knot Seer’s ability. Vengeful Pharaoh can punch through these effects and remove threats despite the veritable fortress of support cards. Even the most common graveyard hate cards, Grafdigger’s Cage and Containment Priest, are poor solutions to a Pharaoh.
Flame-Kin Zealot – Looking at the metagame the night before the event, I saw a fair number of combo decks. I knew I wanted a haste creature to use with Dread Return, and I considered Dragonlord Kolaghan. Ultimately, I didn’t bother to upgrade, feeling that Kolaghan was a small enough upgrade; there is a narrow window where Flame-Kin Zealot scores an easier kill, but in general Kolaghan is the stronger card. I failed to consider that Kolaghan was a black creature, which is critical against Sphere of Resistance effects. In retrospect, I regret my choice not to upgrade to the Dragonlord.
Mindbreak Trap – I faced a paucity of traditional blue decks on my path to the finals. I also faced a number of combo decks, and I think Mindbreak Trap was absolutely correct. While I didn’t get a lot of mileage out of them in this particular event, I did have 4 matches against various multi-spell-combo decks. I would play Mindbreak Trap over Gitaxian Probe or Prized Amalgam against the same field.
Library of Alexandria – I have long been an advocate of this card, but I would put its stock right now near an all-time low. The current metagame has less room for fundamentally reactive decks than in the past. Thought-Knot Seer disrupts the operation of Library of Alexandria, and is an omnipresent threat in Workshop and Eldrazi archetypes. While Library does maintain some value as a Wasteland bait and a post-board engine, I would consider cutting it if I ran the event again.
Shuhei Nakamura Piloting Pitch Dredge in the VSL Season 5 Finals
I think Pitch Dredge is a fundamentally sound strategy. The cocktail of counterspells, a fast uncounterable graveyard combo, and a fast uncounterable non-graveyard combo is going to stress the resources of any opponent. The best bet seems to be copious graveyard hate and land destruction in concert. Remarkably, Shuhei Nakamura’s Pitch Dredge variant from the VSL finals came within striking distance of winning his match against a deck full of exactly that kind of targeted hate. Almost none of the cards in Eric Froehlich’s white hatebears deck were specific to the Oath matchup against which it was built; instead Eric ran more than a dozen cards which were also capable of dismantling Dredge’s graveyard strategy. Thanks to Shuehei’s inclusion of the Dark Depths plan, he very nearly won the match against what a casual commentator would be forgiven for thinking is an unbeatable matchup against Dredge.
White Weenie Troll, by Eric Froehlich - VSL Season 5 Finals
Pitch Dredge, by Shuhei Nakamura - VSL Season 5 Finals
Even aside from direct hate, Eric has matchup-relevant cards like Karakas and Spirit of the Labyrinth. Despite all that, Shuhei lost Game 3 of his match only due to a misplay in which he tapped out of mana into a known group of cards, allowing Eric’s Thalia to protect a Swords to Plowshares removing Marit Lage. You can watch the entire incredible match below.
The Future of Pitch Dredge
My current schedule does not allow me to participate in most Vintage Daily Events on MTGO. For the last four months, I have been absent from the online format and consequently so has my deck. I don’t think I have ever had a win-rate below about 70% over multiple events, and I have demonstrated this weekend for yet another time the raw potential of a transformative Dredge sideboard. To quote Magic Hall of Fame member Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa:
“I fully believe that if Dredge [in the old 7-year Extended format] could play a transformational sideboard it would just win all the tournaments yet it just doesn’t have one because there is just nothing that it can play. It’d be awesome to completely ignore all those very specific hate cards people bring against you but how are you going to do that? First the deck plays a very low number of Lands so some of your sideboard would have to be Lands to help casting the spells you are bringing. Second most big cheap creatures you’d bring… will end up suffering from the hate anyway. All the time I think of Tarmogoyf and Tombstalker and how those cards would be so insane as big beaters for two in Dredge but then I remind myself that they will be bringing cards that happen to combat exactly those cards – your Tombstalker is not going to look very good in the face of a turn 1 Leyline of the Void.”
While I hope to play in the occasional Power 9 Challenge, I cannot be the face of the deck in the way that I used to be. This past winter, for example, there were periods where I personally comprised over 5% of the metagame as recorded by MTG Goldfish and the eventual result was a bloom of other pilots successful with Pitch Dredge. I am confident that this basic strategy can continue to put up strong results, but it is unlikely that my play will in the future be the driving force. Other prominent figures may continue to push the deck, as Lance Ballester has done (and Lance deserves tremendous credit for experimenting with alternate Vintage Dredge strategies before I even took up the format). The occasional interest from the opinion-shapers of Vintage such as the VSL or So Many Insane Plays may sooner or later turn into a wider base of play. The more likely scenario is that the deck again falls off the radar of the average Vintage player, despite its tremendous strength. I hope not.
My Power 9 Challenge run is embedded below. Good luck, and happy Dredging.