I’ve already written a few articles on Dredge, but as a relatively new archetype to Modern, it still has a lot of question marks when it comes to how to properly build the deck. That’s not to say that Dredge itself is new, just that it didn’t really become playable until Prized Amalgam, Insolent Neonate, and Cathartic Reunion came around. The consensus on how to build the deck will probably come in time.
I’ve spent a lot of time testing and playing Dredge over the past few weeks. I have developed a lot of opinions on how to build the deck, but instead of just touting my own choices, I want to cover the various options that people are playing and discuss what makes each option good or bad. I can’t say unequivocally that the card choices I’m playing are any better than what others are playing, so I’m going to talk about all the options.
First of all, here’s the list I played at GP Dallas:
And here is the list that Matt Ayers played to 2nd place at the last Modern SCG Open, featuring quite a few differences:
Fetchland or Mana Confluence Mana Base?
The fetchland mana base has one huge edge over the Mana Confluence mana base: having access to fetchlands gives you the ability to play around cards like Anger of the Gods or Ugin the Spirit Dragon by holding up a fetchland and cracking it on their turn. That can be the difference between winning or losing in some matchups. The fetchland mana base also has more green sources, better facilitating Life from the Loam.
It also has more lands that enter the battlefield untapped past the 3rd land drop, which is occasionally relevant, and it doesn’t play Gemstone Mine, which sometimes screws you over if you want to play a longer game and run out of counters on it.
The Mana Confluence version has a few edges. For one, despite playing Mana Confluence, it actually deals you less damage over the course of most games. That is very relevant in some matchups, such as against Burn.
This version of the mana base also has the ability to cast Prized Amalgam and Narcomoeba, which is relevant in a lot of sideboard games where you have to fight through hate like Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace. The fetchland version can play a Steam Vents to facilitate being able to cast those cards, but then loses out by having to have Steam Vents in your deck, which is essentially a Mountain you have to pay 2 life for a high percentage of the time.
Personally, having tested with both, I prefer the fetchland mana base mostly because it has superior mana. I want to always be able to cast Life from the Loam and I don’t want to have to worry about running out of charges on Gemstone Mine, even if it means I deal myself an extra 4 damage in most games. Considering Dredge is one of the fastest decks in the format, it generally doesn’t matter too much.
Scourge Devil or Rally the Peasants?
This is a pretty marginal choice, all things considered. Scourge Devil does more damage than Rally the Peasants with less than 4 creatures, the same amount with 4 creatures, and then less damage when you have more than 4 creatures. Generally speaking, with that many creatures in play, you’re probably winning anyway.
The advantage of Rally the Peasants is that you aren’t locked into casting it. You can attack, see what blocks your opponent makes, and then if they don’t block in a way that forces you to cast it, you can just decline to use it and do something else instead. Scourge Devil forces you to front load the payment, and it also improves your opponent’s blocks, since +1/+0 will sometimes offer them the ability to block in ways that don’t kill all of their creatures. You can also Rally the Peasants defensively, which is a rare, but occasional delight.
One major advantage of Scourge Devil is that it brings back Prized Amalgam, which is relevant in some scenarios, the main one being against Surgical Extraction, which can strand Prized Amalgams by hitting Narcomoeba and Bloodghast. I don’t actually know which of these is better, but I won a game once by hardcasting Scourge Devil, so I guess I’ll stick with it for now.
Simian Spirit Guide or More of the Same
Another choice is whether or not to play Simian Spirit Guide. Matt Ayers took a Simian-Spirit-Guide-fueled list to 2nd place in the SCG Open. This prompted me to play around with Simian Spirit Guide on MTGO. I played 3 Leagues with his exact list, and then played 3 more with a fetchland mana base, still with Simian Spirit Guides.
The advantage of Simian Spirit Guide is that you get to do disgusting things some percentage of the time. Turn-1 Cathartic Reunion putting 8 power into play is dirty. Very few decks can hope to ever beat that, even if you do little else the rest of the game. SSG makes the deck far more explosive.
The verdict is still out on this one, but for now I am leaning toward Spirit Guide not being good enough. With Simian Spirit guide in my list, I mulliganed more often and had a lot more awkward draws that didn’t pan out. Playing fewer copies Life from the Loam and Conflagrate can actually be a huge drawback, even though it seems like a marginal difference. Also playing 1 less land overall does matter. There were many times where I could Simian Spirit Guide into a turn-1 Cathartic Reunion, but without a second land I was stuck trying to naturally draw one or spike a Dakmor Salvage to be able to continue to do anything useful.
Bojuka Bog or Leyline of the Void
Both of these cards are almost exclusively for the Dredge mirror. Leyline of the Void has the advantage that if you start with one in play and they don’t have a Nature’s Claim on hand, they basically can’t do anything until they find one. If you start with 2, the game is just over most of the time.
The advantage of Bojuka Bog is that it takes up fewer slots in your sideboard. Bog also has the edge that it can’t be hated out. You can’t Nature’s Claim a Bojuka Bog, and Life from the Loam finds it. Bog also is relevant if you don’t have it in your opening hand since you can just mill over it at some point and then Life from the Loam it back to blow up the opponent’s 'yard.
I think Bog is way better, personally. Dredge has serious consistency issues, and when you add in 4 enchantments that have to be in your opening hand to do anything, you get into awkward situations where you have to keep a Leyline hand that’s otherwise unplayable and hope they don’t have Nature’s Claim, or you have to keep an otherwise playable hand without Leyline, and then be left without graveyard hate the rest of the game. Bog has a very similar power level to Leyline, is also a land that can cast spells, and doesn’t disrupt the consistency of your deck.
Why is this card in the sideboard? The answer is Temur Battle Rage decks. It is good against both the Thing in the Ice deck and Death’s Shadow Zoo. Against those decks, if they go for a Temur-Battle-Rage-fueled kill, a Pharaoh in the graveyard will kill that creature after first strike damage and prevent the 2nd hit.
In the case of all of these options, my preference is for the less powerful yet more consistent choice. Normally I’m a big advocate for just playing the most powerful cards, but in this case, the Dredge shell is already powerful, and the biggest drawback is that you lose to yourself a lot, so I think playing slightly worse cards to make sure you lose those kinds of games less often is where I want to be.