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Breaking Through – Dredge: From the Grave Up

For the past six months I have worked on plenty of formats and plenty of decks, but one in particular has received more of my attention than any other. Each and every time I revisit Standard, I take a look at Dredge to see not only what pieces the deck can work into its shell, but also how it is positioned in the metagame.

When I first began working on the deck, the pool of cards with which we could work was significantly smaller. Born of the Gods may have only added one set into an existing five, but it brought with it a much higher number of cards that BG Dredge might care about, despite lacking a certain black/green Temple for us to use!

When I originally built the deck, the number of enablers was firmly set at only two and then you could opt in to signficantly worse enablers like Lotleth Troll or Drown in Filth, but neither of those provided you with the momentum you needed. The consistency was not quite there. I even played the deck at GP Albuquerque due to the amazing results I was experiencing online. It turns out that the deck was certainly capable of those draws and games, but it was also capable of folding up and losing to itself.

Before Born of the Gods, the biggest issues with BG Dredge were

• Poor mana
• Inconsistency
• Lower than desired creature counts due to needing to reach out to spells

While Born of the Gods did not address all of these to solution, it did improve the deck in each of these areas. Satyr Wayfinder provides the deck with not only its 3rd enabler, but one attached to a body at that. This is vital because it allows you to keep your creature density high, to allow for more favorable dredges into creatures, and also because it is a prime target for a bestowed Nighthowler. Most of your other creatures are larger or have activated abilities so bestowing them with a Nighthowler comes with a small drawback, but Wayfinder is generally just sitting around, waiting to be beefed up.

Beyond Satyr Wayfinder, another important addition to the deck came in the form of our second three-drop bestow creature: Herald of Torment. Herald does not look like a dredge card at first glance. Nothing on it references graveyards or discarding and yet it is a very big pickup.

You see, the deck is able to generate gigantic creatures. 10/10s for four mana and 9/9s for three mana are common, but none of those fly, or have trample, or are unblockable. Sometimes that is totally fine as you just bulldoze your way through blockers. It is tough to lose when you present a double-Abyss for your opponent with the alternative being death. Some cards and decks are able to abuse our lack of evasion though. Master of Waves is particularly potent against giant guys for example. So, the deck needs something to help it push through. Before, most of our options were pretty bad, whether you were turning to Mogis’s Marauder or even Rogue’s Passage, which I tried for awhile before concluding that the mana base could not handle it. But a creature card that let’s your monsters take to the skies is exactly what we need.

So that is where we are now. Dredge picked up some new additions and the metagame shifted quite a bit. Mono-Blue has been a historically bad matchup for this deck. You can win, but you would rather face off against just about any other opponent. Mono-Blue has fallen in numbers recently which has opened the door just enough to start putting Dredge on the map.

The deck has made back-to-back Top 16s at the last two Standard Grand Prix and while that might not sound too impressive, keep in mind that a very small portion of the field was running this deck—likely single digits in both tournaments. As a result, Dredge has become more popular and people are asking questions, so I figured that I would detail the ins and outs of the deck.

First of all, let me start with a list. Because it is a linear strategy, you will not see too many variations in card choices, as only so much works within the shell. That said, I am certainly happy with the following configuration:

G/B Dredge

Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about it!

The Mana

By far the biggest weakness is the mana base. Golgari was one of only two guilds not to get a scry land yet, and that is a big deal. Coming into play tapped is not exactly what this deck wants, but because the deck has a high variance in each draw step, scrying is almost certainly worth the trade-off.

Sylvan Caryatid alleviates this problem, which is why I have worked him back to a 4-of. When Herald of Torment came out, my thought was that I would want as many valid bestow targets as possible and Caryatid does not qualify. As I face more and more decks that a 0/3 would be insane against and I continue to run into mana problems, reinforcing the Caryatid army is basically a no-brainer at this point. I played with three copies for a while and it felt okay, so if you are looking to gamble, try three, but two is definitely too few.

I originally had Deathrite as an important part of the mana base. My thinking was that a turn one Deathrite Shaman was almost always followed up with by an enabler of some type, and then Deathrite would start pumping out mana. It turns out that was not actually the case. Sometimes you will spike and have access to Deathrite mana on turn 2 or 3, but in those cases, it is usually limited to one or two activations. Once the midgame gets going, the mana fixing on the Shaman becomes reliable  as there are usually a handful of lands lying around in the ‘yard. This is especially important if you are splashing red, which we will discuss below.

I run one copy of Golgari Guildgate as a nod to the mana being a little sketchy at times. You are usually in need of black mana when you do not draw Caryatid, so I just swapped a Forest out for the Guildgate. Being tapped matters some of the time, of course, but I have not found it to be too heavy a burden and the extra black source helps.

The Enablers

There is not really much to say about the enablers we are running and mostly just things to say about the ones we aren’t. That includes the 4th Commune with the Gods, which I currently have sitting on the bench for a Whip of Erebos.

Commune is a strong enabler and without it, this deck would not be possible, but with Wayfinders bumping our main deck enablers all the way to 12, we have a little wiggle room there. I was running the deck on only 8 enablers for a very long time and while we certainly want more than that, I think one enabler can go. I am not saying that this is necessarily correct, but when you want to test noncreature cards in the deck, you can’t go cutting creatures and there are not a lot of noncreatures left to choose from. Commune with the Gods just happens to be the weakest enabler.

As for other options:

I was a fan of Drown in Filth  a few months back, but that was before we had better options like Wayfinder. Drown in Filth is inconsistent in what it produces, which can be a big problem. In addition, the card needs a target to be cast so either you are offering your own creatures or this will be stranded in your hand sometimes. The deck is efficient enough to win without removal and if you do choose to go with one or two removal spells, they have to be higher impact than Drown in Filth.

Rot Farm Skeleton is another card people often add to the discussion. Again, this is a card I have tried and it does allow for a few cute plays, but one must question whether “cute plays” are essential to the deck. Against aggro, this is basically a non-threat until the game is in hand, much the way that Jarad is right now. And given the option, Jarad is still going to be better to Dredge back because it can actually block.

Against control the Skeleton offers some game, but it is still weak to many of the answers people throw at things like Chandra’s Phoenix, such as Detention Sphere, and good luck ever getting through Elspeth tokens.

4 mana is a lot for a generic body that can’t block. The deck does not really lack in that sort of recursive threat potential, so I don’t see the need to add a card that only fills that role and does so rather poorly.

Deadbridge Chant is another card that I used before as a weapon against control to clean up things in the late game. We no longer need to turn to slow and clunky cards like that now that Born of the Gods has given us enough playables to focus our deck. Chant is not a bad card, but it is bad in a world of burn, Detention Spheres, Revoke Existence, and Thoughtseize.

All of the other enablers, from Undercity Informer, to Returned Centaur, are ruled out due to raw power level and lack of value.

The Threats

If you are interested in playing Dredge, it is almost certainly due to the caliber of its threats, which are not only the biggest in all of Standard, but are relatively inexpensive as well. You easily go over the top of any random monster from Jund or R/G, and even fighting through a swarm of Pack Rats is common when the opponent cannot afford to take hits from a 10/10 on their life total.

Nighthowler is the premier finisher here as it is both versatile and scales quickly. Unlike the other threats in this list, Nighthowler checks both players’ graveyards, meaning all of that chump blocking is just fueling the beast even more. Because bestow here is so cheap at only 4 mana, it is essentially like Nighthowler has haste. And if you put it on to anything with evasion, the game ends in short order. This is basically the best use for Lotleth Troll in your deck, as he is slightly awkward otherwise.

Nemesis of Mortals is a card I have heard others claim they want to cut but he really is the bread and butter of this deck. Most decks are ready to handle turn 3 5/5s. Even in draws without many enablers, Nemesis is still just a big guy. Maybe he costs four or five mana because all that happened was your Elvish Mystic ate removal, but that is still a decent Magic card. Going monstrous is common. Whenever he goes unblocked, or a Jarad is involved, you want to get this into giant mode and hopefully are not paying more than 4 mana to do so.

I do cut some copies of Nemesis against many decks due to his sorcery speed nature and lack of immediate impact where cards like Mistcutter Hydra serve me better, but that takes nothing away from the card, especially in game 1.

Jarad is still your best way to end games in many matchups as avoiding the red zone but still dealing double damage numbers with his sacrifice ability is quite potent. Over time, I dialed him back from 3 copies to just 2 copies, but that is mostly a result of needing room for new cards and extra copies of Jarad being redundant. Because Jarad is your one creature that comes back from the graveyard on his own, you very rarely keep this off of your enablers and instead let him hit the ‘yard to have access to him later on in the game.

Shadowborn Demon and Lotleth Troll are both secondary threats for the deck, but I will discuss them here regardless. Of these two cards, Demon is far and away the more important. If Demon did not have mandatory targeting, it could easily be a three- or four-of in the main deck, but right now, if you run into Esper or something and draw 2 Demons, things can be awkward. Killing off your own useless mana dorks is viable, but hardly the way you want to play the card.

Because this deck has such a thirst for creatures, finding one that doubles up as a removal spell is extremely valuable. Add on to that the fact that Demon flies and we have a real winner.

As for Lotleth Troll, I have mixed feelings on this guy. For the longest time, I just chose to leave the Troll out of my lists. I was asked about Troll not making it more so than any other card and it made sense. Troll is a very efficient creature with evasion and self-protection, great at picking up a Nighthowler. But the issue was when you didn’t have Nighthowler.

Far too often all he does is play defense for the first few turns, which is not useless, but is not necessarily what this deck needs. His ability to fill the graveyard comes up in the midgame, but you can usually only justify ditching one or two creatures to him as you need those guys for mana or because they are better than the Troll himself.

There are times when you will just move all in on the Troll because of the matchup or the way your hand shapes up, but that occurs much less often than those times when Troll has essentially no impact on the game. I like Troll quite a bit, but this deck does not need him that badly. I currently have him as a 3-of but would say that if you are looking to try other creatures, Troll is the first cut.

Sideboarding

Unlike most decks, it is important to track a few totals while you are sideboarding with this deck. I might have 8 spells that are great against Esper, but if I were to bring them all in, removing awkward creatures for them, I would drop down to a mere 23 creatures. This deck has a very hard time operating with such a low count. Instead, you must be diligent about keeping your creature count above 27 or 28 while still maintaining a reasonable game plan.

This limits both the way you build the sideboard, as well as your options for substitutions. We have only 6 noncreatures in the sideboard so even if we were to bring them all in for creatures, we would still have 25 bodies. That is too low, but it is a worst-case scenario.

In addition to that, I should point out that much of my boarding is played by ear. Because each Standard deck has slight variations, I avoid rigid plans and instead use general ones that allow me to outmaneuver my opponent through sideboarding. With that in mind, here is a rough guide:

Esper

Add

 

 

 

Remove

 

Mono-Black

Add

Remove

 

Mono-Blue

Add

Remove

 

R/W Burn

Add

Remove

 

R/G or Jund Monsters

Add

Remove

You could also add Golgari Charm instead of Lifebane Zombie

The Lifebane Zombie slot looks suspect here and that is because he probably is. We have been running three copies for awhile but have made the reduction to fit cards that help out other matchups more, as your big guy matchup is not that difficult most of the time.

Jund Dredge

I wanted to take a look at other Dredge builds beyond just G/B as well. Blue makes a lot of sense to try in the deck due to the number of ways to mill yourself as well as having additional means to grant evasion. However, the most popular color to add to the Dredge shell is easily red. The thinking is that Ghor-Clan Rampager provides the deck with an efficient means of evasion that also happens to dump a guy into the ‘yard. Additionally, just casting a turn 3 Rampager often puts more pressure on the opponent than a Lotleth Troll would, since he doesn’t need any help to make an impact.

I took the base concept of adding red, which usually consists of only Ghor-Clan Rampager and sometimes Flesh // Blood, and added a few touch-ups to the list. Below is the 75 that I piloted for an upcoming Rogue’s Gallery, so check it out!

Xenagos is the big card I am trying out that has not really seen play in the list thus far. His ability to grant haste is very strong against the control decks as he is a difficult to answer while still counting as a creature for your Grisly Salvages and Nighthowlers. He is an experimental 1-of, but has been pretty strong so far. He even gets active occasionally!

We have not added so much red to the deck that the mana has gotten worse from the above G/B list, especially with all of the dual lands in the format, but it does add drawbacks. We have more lands coming into play tapped and we take more damage from our mana base. Neither of those are deal breakers, but they are upfront costs to playing this archetype.

I have found that the lands entering play tapped has not been as painful as I would have expected. The deck actually finds nice little pockets to squeeze a tapped land in. For example, any hand without a one-drop can use a Temple pretty well of course. Additionally, you will often lead with an Elvish Mystic and then play a single two-drop on turn 2. Playing a Temple in this spot is worth losing the occasional 1 damage.

And the scry is huge in this deck. When your deck is capable of producing both a dead draw (land) or a 20/20 in the late game, filtering even just a card is a huge advantage. One really neat thing is that your Satyr Wayfinders now produce real value in the late game. Typically, you just look at them for their mill component late, but when they can lead to a land that scrys, they become much more bearable draws.

The deck played out a little differently than B/G Dredge did, with incremental damage being much more important because of your trample damage and multiple Fling effects. G/B tended to kill you from just about any life and while Jund has the capability of doing that, you often find it sneaking in just enough damage, just in time.

Honestly, if the mana base is not an issue, adding red might just be what the deck needs going forward. It also lowers your reliance on the graveyard, which could be key if/when people start doing things like running four copies of Scavenging Ooze in the main deck.

Wrap Up

Dredge is still very well positioned in the current metagame. As long as the hyper aggressive decks are hiding, which they are, it seems that the metagame does not really contain the tools to beat a deck like Dredge. Occasionally, it is a deck that will beat itself through mana issues or poor Dredges, but that issue has been alleviated greatly with Born of the Gods.

As I mentioned earlier, if people begin to run graveyard removal of any kind, it might be a good idea to just switch to Jund Dredge for more raw power out of your creatures and lands, relying a little less on synergy. In either case, there is a threshold of hate that would make these strategies unsustainable, but we are not really anywhere near that yet, so in the meantime, impress all your friends by going to Jarad!

Conley Woods

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