think I knew I would be playing Dredgevine at U.S. Nationals ever since I got the chance to watch Devon O'Donnell wrestle with the controls of his blue-black version at the 2010 TCGPlayer.com Series in Hartford, Connecticut. The deck was obviously very powerful and seemed like a heck of a lot of fun to play. I could not boot up Magic Online fast enough when I got home to start playing around with the list.
I talked to Devon about the deck as he made his way to the Top 4 of the event and he said he took the inspiration for the deck from a Trial-winning list in the last hours before Grand Prix–Sendai. The deck was packed with some unconventional choices and it was likely the first time anyone had played with Renegade Doppelganger, Enclave Cryptologist, or Sedraxis Alchemist in a high-level Constructed event.
Youichi Nagami's Dredgevine
Standard - 1st Place - Trial L at Grand Prix–Sendai
Devon O'Donnell's Dredgevine
Standard - Top 4 - 2010 TCGplayer.com Series in Hartford, CT
A tweet from @kellydigges
Steve Sadin and I played around with the deck quite a bit—and Steve wrote a series of articles about the deck for his weekly column over on TCGPlayer.com—and eventually dropped the Monuments in favor of sideboarded Sleeps, added a fourth Doppelganger, and ditched the Ponder. I played the deck quite a bit on Magic Online and had a lot of success in the two-man queues, beating pretty much everything except Red Deck Wins with regularity.
I was looking forward to adding Magic 2011 to the mix and trying the deck out with Fauna Shaman—and in fact wrote about the deck in an installment of The Week That Was immediately after the Prerelease. I eventually put the deck away in the weeks leading up to Nationals as Mike Flores had me pretty much convinced to play Pyromancer Ascension after the success of the deck by Jacob Van Lunen in a local Pro Tour Qualifier and the dominance of the deck at French Nationals.
Still, the deck lurked at the periphery of my consciousness every time I played a match of Standard. Could I have won this match if I was playing Dredgevine? What would I be sideboarding? Tired of asking myself hypothetical questions I rebuilt the deck in the days leading up to Nationals and began to play with it again—happy to see that Red Deck Wins was not living up to the last third of its name of late.
Brad Nelson messaged me on Facebook and asked what I was playing at Nats and I told him I was leaning toward Dredgevine expecting him to dismiss the deck out of hand. I was away from my computer for a while and when I came back there were a couple of messages from Brad asking for the list. He was intrigued and wanted to try it out for himself. I sent it over to him and a couple of hours later Brad sent the deck back with Bloodghast nowhere to be found and additional one-drop mana-creatures.
Steve and I made some additional modifications to Brad's list—notably adding Sleeps to the sideboard—and began to test the deck. The night before I left for Minneapolis I won every two-man queue I played in with the deck. While I had the bulk of a Pyromancer Ascension deck built and ready in my bag, I also made sure to pack all my Dredgevine cards as well.
When I talked to Brad Nelson at the tournament site on Thursday he had cooled considerably on the deck. He was posting great results against decks like Ascension and White-Blue, but was finding that he was having trouble punching through creature heavy decks that we did not have much of a way to interact with. I made the case for playing Sleep in the sideboard and he once again seemed to be leaning toward the deck. Joining him on the incline was David Ochoa who had liked what he had seen when Brad was testing the deck out and as he said in his Top 8 profile: "I played the deck because most people wouldn't be prepared for the deck. Also, the deck has the most broken draws in the format."
We had a late night tuning session on Thursday night with the four of us finalizing the sideboard slots. We were certain that we wanted Sleep and Unified Will and Brad was insistent on having four Obstinate Baloths. When Brad had sent me his take on the deck list he had three different disenchant effects because he could not choose between Nature's Claim, Naturalize, or Back to Nature but he ultimately decided on the cheapest of those spells for ease of paying for countermagic like Mana Leak or Spell Pierce.
The last two sideboard cards to be decided came down to which answer we wanted to have for the dreaded Cunning Sparkmage. Brad liked Leyline of Vitality because it was also good in the Red Deck Wins match-up while I wanted the flexibility of Pithing Needle, which could shut off Sparkmage, Relic of Progenitus, opposing Fauna Shamans, and planeswalkers. In the end Ochoa and I went with the Pithing Needle while Brad and Steve played the Leyline. There were other minor differences in terms of the mix of Birds and Hierarchs but all four of our decks had something like seventy-two or seventy-three cards in common.
Brad Nelson's Dredgevine
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 U.S. Nationals Championships
David Ochoa's Dredgevine
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 U.S. Nationals Championships
I was excited to get a chance to play at Nationals—and my first ever invitation-based round of Constructed.
Alex was a pleasant opponent and we chatted about other card games he used to play before making the leap to competitive Magic. Alex mulliganed on the play in Game 1 and never played anything other than a Plains and an Arid Mesa while my deck attacked for 4 then 9. My Fauna Shaman ditched Vengevine and Extractor Demon to find more of the same. In Games 2 and 3, I ended up being shut down by the tandem of Linvala and Cunning Sparkmage and could never get the deck to turn over with an explosive start.
This match-up was a much better one than round one and I simply played out my cards and was never in any real danger from Runeflare Trap despite the Howling Mine on turn two. With seven mana-creatures I was able to have pretty explosive draws and just overrun him despite him taking a handful of extra turns to delay my lethal attack. In the second game I traded a couple of my early drops for his removal and eventually was able to Unified Will a Chain Reaction.
My opening hand looked amazing until Reed played a turn three Linvala in Game 1. I still had the chance to outrace him with double Hedron Crab and a couple of fetch lands threatening to stock my graveyard with Vengevines and Demons but I blanked twice. In Game 2 Hartman had a turn three Ajani Vengeant to lock down my Looter and I quickly found myself with a pair of losses.
I actually am not sure which colors of Fauna Shaman the Grand Prix–Oakland winner was playing but I lost in two quick games to Linvala and more blank mills on my Hedron Crabs.
I found myself a disappointing 1-3 at the end of the Constructed rounds of Day One. I got a little unlucky with both my match-ups and my Hedron Crabs but I was also quite rusty and made some subtle and not-so subtle misplays along the way. In round one I assumed my opponent was playing the Boros deck that had done well at Chinese Nationals when it should have been clear to me that he was playing Naya Shaman. Having those Pithing Needles for Game 2 could have made a big difference. In another match I simply played the wrong land and could not hard cast a Vengevine that was suddenly stranded in my hand by Linvala.
I sat down for my draft rounds and was at a pretty light-hearted table where we all exchanged bad beat stories and joked about the event. I was being passed to by Jason Ford and passing to Trey Dismukes. My opening pack offered a choice between Foresee and Crystal Ball and I chose the Ball. My second pick was Garruk's Packleader and I never looked back. I barely passed a green card in pack one and was paid off handsomely in the second pack.
Pack two led off with Cudgel Troll and was followed up with another Troll and Overwhelming Stampede. Here is the deck I took into battle for the final three rounds of Day One.
I felt pretty good about the deck and felt like it was good enough to run the table and remain alive heading into Day Two.
Adam was not happy with his deck and obviously unhappy with his overall results thus far in the tournament, lamenting what was happening to his once high rating. Adam was also green and explained why it dried up somewhat in the third pack since he was two seats away passing to Jason Ford. He did not have any memorable bombs other than an Armored Ascension that took the first game. I sided in a Plummet, for that card and a couple of other white flyers that showed up in Game 1, and was able to two for one him when he played the Aura in Game 2.
Game 3 was a heartbreaker as I kept a hand of Llanowar Elves, Forest, Forest, Prized Unicorn, Garruk's Companion, Garruk's Packleader, and Overwhelming Stampede on the draw. I could not find my fourth land—although an Excommunicate did not help matters any—and a White Knight and Garruk's Companion nibbled me to death before I could finish things off with the Stampede.
Adam dropped after the match. While I did not expect him to concede to me if he was going to drop—as I said, he was concerned about his rating—I did kind of expect him to wait until I was out of earshot to do it.
I was still sulking from my loss to Adam and the subsequent drop-dagger and my notes from this match are pretty spare. I do recall, however, that Jason was not very happy with a deck that featured multiple Relentless Rats and it looks like I took him down in two quick games.
"So I guess one of us is going to win this table," said Trey as we sat down for the match. We had been talking about our dearth of wins in the opening rounds but Trey had turned it around to get to 3-3 after winning his first two draft rounds. He had been paired down against me despite the fact that he could conceivably still make Top 8 while I could not. I had already been planning on playing in the Pro Tour Qualifier the next day so I conceded to Trey so he could continue the good fight.
It was a disappointing 2-5 finish but I had a great time preparing for and playing in the event despite my combination of misplays and misfortunes. Plus I got to watch two of the best players in the room validate my blue-green take on Dredgevine as they made their way toward a Day Three showdown. I hope I get a chance to do it again next year!