Hitting Blind - The Full Guide to Cabal Therapy
If you've read Andifeated's last two articles, you should've learned a lot about playing Dredge in Legacy already, but there is one important topic that hasn't been discussed yet and it might be the hardest area of the archetype: Casting Cabal Therapy correctly. Learn how to pick em right here!
Cabal Therapy might be the card that has taught me the most about Magic: The Gathering. It's definitely the card that I've had the most fun playing with. In this article, I'll teach you everything I know about the card – from a Legacy Dredge perspective – and just general tips and tricks for a card that is a centerpiece of so many Legacy decks and might even help in other format and your daily life.
Let's Meet Cabal Therapy
First, let's just take a close look at what is written on the card:
Choose a nonland card name. Target player reveals their hand and discards all cards with that name.
Flashback—Sacrifice a creature. (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)
The main purpose of this card is not to pay black mana and cast it from your hand, at least not usually. Dredge runs this card for its flashback effect. In the graveyard, it allows you to sacrifice Ichorid or Narcomoeba, stripping cards from your opponent's hand and, additionally and more importantly, putting Zombie Tokens into play with Bridge from Below without paying any mana. The fact that we may name a card and see if we can manage to steal it from our opponent's hand is a very convenient way to interact with our opponent since the rest of the deck is purely linear and only works toward dealing 20 damage quickly. Some kind of disruption is needed in order to stand a chance against other combo decks in the Legacy format.
Note that it's occasionally the right play to cast Cabal Therapy targeting yourself on the first turn of the game to discard a card featuring the Dredge keyword.
In order to tell you when you should play it, I must first teach you how to actually use the card correctly in a tournament setting. The card is very weird and doesn't work the way you'd expect it too. This aspect leaves a lot of room for miscommunication, rule violations, and game state failures.
So, we're going to have a little talk about how you should resolve this particular spell to make sure you maintain a proper game state and don't commit any actions that could lead to a penalty, and of course, it'll allow you to better check your opponent's use of the card.
1. Announce Your Target
A Player is the target. This means, outside of multiplayer, you may target yourself or your opponent. In Dredge, you'll use both yourself and your opponent as the target, depending on the situation.
2. Pay Any Cost
If you're casting the card from your hand, pay a black mana. If you are casting the card from your graveyard, sacrifice a creature.
3. The Spell Has Now Successfully Been Cast and Put on the Stack
This is when your Bridge from Below will trigger if you sacrificed a creature in order to pay for the cost. Therefore, the Zombie tokens will always be put onto the battlefield before Cabal Therapy resolves.
4. Name the Card AFTER Your Opponent Explicitly Passes Priority
Naming the card is the last part that should be done when casting Cabal Therapy. Your opponent won't know which card you're going to name before he decides if he wants to counter it with Force of Will or whether he should respond and hide cards with Brainstorm
If you stick to this guide you will experience way less confusion and will have far fewer problematic situations in tournament play.
Which Cards to Name
When playing Dredge, you will often end up with perfect information about the cards available to your opponent since your first Cabal Therapy will reveal their hand and from that point on, your next Therapies will have an easy time stripping apart your opponent's hand cards. But wouldn't it be nice to hit a card with the first one as well? It's not only nice, it's a necessity in many games in order to turn a loss into a win. Dredge is a deck of razor slim edges, and it, like many Legacy decks, will fall short of its full potential if you're even one turn off. In order to increase your chance of winning, learning which cards to name and how to use your available information might be the most important part about playing this deck successfully.
Name to Win, Not to Hit
If you're familiar with Legacy you will know that about 50% of the decks are running 4 Brainstorm and almost as many are running 4 Ponder and 4 Force of Will, so you might argue that without information, you might just name one of those and, to be fair, with that approach, you'll hit far more often than if you name different cards. But the truth is, if your opponent let you discard and/or Dredge, they aren't holding Force of Will and you won't need to resolve spells anyways, so letting them keep that card is almost the same as discarding it. The same goes for Ponder and Brainstorm. Sure, it helps them to find the cards they need but then they are also using their Mana and if they cast Cantrips in order to find relevant cards, you'll just race them in most cases. Dredge is a beautiful deck since many cards the opponent casts are not relevant for us and can't keep up with our power. What we really care about are effects that we just die to.
Popular cards Dredge often loses preboard games to:
|Cabal Therapy Hitlist|
|Card Names||% of Decks Playing It||Notes|
|Green Sun's Zenith||12,04||Can search for Scavenging Ooze.|
|Lion's Eye Diamond||9,7||Dredge and Storm can race you with that card.|
|Scavenging Ooze||9,7||Commonly played in main decks alongside Green Sun's Zenith.|
|Dark Ritual||9,36||Played by Storm and Reanimator Decks to end the game on the third, second, or even first turn.|
|Crop Rotation||9,36||Can search up a nail in the coffin like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Glacial Chasm or Bojuka Bog.|
|Show and Tell||8,03||While it's possible to beat Emrakul, the Eon's Torn and Griselbrand on board, you are better off when they stay in your opponents hand, where they belong.|
|Infernal Tutor||6,35||Only Storm decks use this card but it's necessary for their most deadly draws.|
|Reanimate||2||While Reanimator is not that popular, an early Griselbrand or Elesh Norn, the Grand Cenobite is one of the hardest openings to beat with Dredge.|
The data used for this chart accounts recent Magic Online Legacy Competitive Leagues and Legacy Challenge Tournaments gathered between Summer and Winter 2018.
When putting a completely blind Cabal Therapy on the stack, you should have this chart in mind and compare the cards by how devastating they would be in this game, and finally, you should how likely it is that they have each card. Sure, Green Sun's Zenith is the most likely of those to be hit but in order to be good, your opponent needs three mana. For that reason, you might start with something that's faster like Dark Ritual, Lion's Eye Diamond, or Crop Rotation. Since not all Decks featuring Crop Rotation have main deck access to lands that are devastating to our strategy, I would generally start with the fast mana cards.
Know the Metagame
In order to have a good gut for Cabal Therapy, you need to know which decks will be brought to a Legacy Tournament. I advise that you check out recent decklists frequently. It's not just because Legacy is big either. Decklists change and sometimes a new card makes it into a deck. If you're not informed, then they might have some new tech that instantly sinks you… something you could have named with Therapy. You need that information for sideboarding as well, so developing this habit kills two birds with one stone. You need to know exactly for which cards you need to sideboard for and you need to know which cards are in your opponent's decks to name the correct card for Therapy – study a lot of Decklists!
It's not enough to just know what they're playing either. You need to know how their deck works. What kind of hands are they likely to keep? How do the turns of said hands usually play out? Which game action informs me best about the content of his/her hand? Grab those decks you're not familiar with and play some games with them. You will have a much better perspective on what they need to win the game, which cards are important, and what cards they need in specific situations. That way, you'll be able to read your opponents far better and see signals that tell you which cards they're holding.
Here's an example of why knowing your opponents' decks backwards and forwards is crucial for playing Therapy: I recently played a match where my opponent started the first game with Verdant Catacombs and passed the turn. I was able to go off with Lion's Eye Diamond and Breakthrough and my first and only Cabal Therapy resolved. I thought a lot about what to name.
He probably didn't have Crop Rotation because he would've cast it in response to find Bojuka Bog or Tabernacle most likely and Scavenging Ooze and Zenith are no big deal because he didn't cast a Noble Hierarch or anything similar on the first turn. I could easily remove Infernal Tutor, Lion's Eye Diamond, and Show and Tell from the List as well, since Storm and Show and Tell Decks don't play Verdant Catacombs.
Essentially, that meant I needed to go for either Reanimate or Entomb and ignore the possibility of him having a second land and Scavenging Ooze in hand, since it's quite unlikely. Since he didn't spend his first turn casting Faithless Looting, it was more likely that he is holding Entomb so I named that. He revealed his hand and discarded two copies. He would've searched for Griselbrand or Elesh Norn on my end step and reanimated them on his next turn to win the game.
This moment felt so rewarding and well earned and my opponent immediately conceded after his draw step.
When to Name Surgical Extraction
It's the single most played sideboard card in all of Legacy. 51,84 % of Sideboards contain 2,4 copies of the card on average. It's played in more decks than Brainstorm is and it's a really potent weapon against Dredge. There are a lot of decks that completely rely on this card to beat us – especially decks with Snapcaster Mage. It's also very flexible and hard to hit with Cabal Therapy. Still, you can set up a situation to blank the card or play around it. Usually, the best targets for this card are Narcomoeba, Ichorid, or Bridge from Below. Extracting a card with the Dredge keyword doesn't do a whole lot in many situations and is only good if you can buy several turns this way because it's the only available Dredger and if your opponent is pretty sure you're not holding a Copy of Street Wraith in your hand. Therefore, you can try to bait it out with Cabal Therapy when you don't have any good targets in your graveyard yet. This may happen if you fail to mill something relevant initially or when you skip your first turn in order to cast Cabal Therapy targeting your opponent off of a land. Note that not discarding a Dredger on the first turn of the game is a huge cost so only use this trick with a lot of thought about your opponent's situation.
You know what to name in the dark. Now use this sheet in order to more precisely name cards when you've figured out your opponent's deck:
|A Refined Cabal Therapy Hitlist|
|Grixis Control||Avoid getting your Bridges exiled: Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, Snapcaster Mage. Jace, the Mind Sculptor if you need more time.||They usually add some Surgical Extractions and board wipes like Toxic Deluge. Protect your Bridges and you should be just fine.|
|Miracles||Swords to Plowshares can exile your Ichorids and Snapcaster Mage exiles your Bridges if you're not careful. Get rid of Monastery Mentor or Jace if you need time.||Most lists bring in Surgical Extraction, therefore, Snapcaster Mage is your top priority postboard. Note that half the lists are running Containment Priest which you can't beat when it resolves.|
|Sneak and Show||Show and Tell or Sneak Attack depending on their mana situation. Note that about half the lists are running Cunning Wish which can get Surgical Extraction in game one.||The usually side in Grafdigger's Cage which you can't hit with Therapy in most cases. Be mindful of Pyroclasm, Kozilek's Return or Echoing Truth.|
|Eldrazi Post||Walking Ballista can exile Bridge from Below. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger kills usually with one attack.||You can't beat Ensnaring Bridge, name it!|
|Ad Nauseam Tendrils||Dark Ritual gives you the most time, but Infernal Tutor leaves them with less outs.||The same as preboard.|
|Grixis Delver||Protect your Bridges from Lightning Bolt; don't let True-Name Nemesis race you||The same as preboard, but look for spots to name Surgical Extraction.|
|Eldrazi Stompy||Walking Ballista and Endless One threaten your Bridges; Reality Smasher can swing the race.||Nothing, you won't resolve Therapy under Chalice. Side some of them out. Be aware of Ratchet Bomb.|
|Elves||Glimpse of Nature and Natural Order can kill you out of nowhere; Green Sun's Zenith will find Scavenging Ooze.||The same but they add Surgical Extraction.|
|Dimir Shadow||Gurmag Angler and Death's Shadow if they couldn't cast them yet. Protect your Bridges from Fatal Push and Dismember.||Be aware of Ratchet Bomb and Toxic Deluge but their creatures are the most important names.|
|Golgari Depths||They have access to Bojuka Bog main deck. Get rid of those Crop Rotations to disrupt their combo as well. Vampire Hexmage can buy a lot of time. Sylvan Scrying is worth mentoning depending on the situation.||The same but they add Surgical Extraction.|
|4C Loam||Scavenging Ooze, Green Sun's Zenith, and Knight of the Reliquary, but not all lists have scary lands maindeck.||Put more value in naming Knight of the Reliquary.|
|Dredge||Lion's Eye Diamond and Breakthrough.||Same as preboard, but if you have Leyline of the Void, you might start on Nature's Claim.|
|Lands||Main deck Bojuka Bog and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, so get rid of those Crop Rotations and Gambles.||Nothing changes.|
|Reanimator||Entomb if they pass the turn with mana up; Reanimate if they have enough life or Animate Dead / Exhume depending on the game state.||Nothing changes.|
|Maverick||Green Sun's Zenith and Knight of the Reliquary are played in playsets; Scavenging Ooze is usually a one-off.||They have Surgical Extractions or Faerie Macabre, but Zenith is still the center point.|
The sheet above shows the most popular and successful Legacy decks in descending order according to data collected by mtggoldfish.com
I hope that this article helps you to name the correct card for the common situations you might encounter, but keep in mind that this article is for recent tournaments, so you might need to adapt if decks incorporate new cards or the format changes again. Anyways, You should, after reading this article, be well equipped to make educated decisions on what to name with Cabal Therapy and develop the skills necessary to imagine the contents of your opponent's hand!
Let me know in the comments if this series of articles about Dredge helped you to understand or beat the deck, if you would've included some more information about specific topics, or simply if you've experienced some hilarious stories with Cabal Therapy as well.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.