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Feature Article – Dredging up Dredge

Magic, as a game is bound by rules and I’m not talking about Tournament guidelines or mechanics. I’m talking about the rules that make up the games most basic core set of guidelines. (you draw one card a turn, you play 1 land each turn etc) this is nothing new to most of you.

Sometimes we get cards that let us break one of these core rules, we get to draw more then one card ([card]Ancestral Recall[/card]) or play more then one land ([card]Fastbond[/card]) but in general we’re all bound to these rules. We all apply them when we’re building decks, when thinking and planning our turns to come. When we sit down to a game of Magic and we know the format, we know if our opponent could be having a way to break one of the fundamental rules (like [card]Ancestral Recall[/card] being legal) we can plan for it to happen in our favor or for us to have a response ([card]Force of Will[/card], [card]Misdirection[/card]) when that doesn’t happen.

When sitting down for a game in any format, you’re basically agreeing to both be playing with the same set of fundamental rules and ways to break them.

What if one of you didn’t agree? What if one of you, played an entirely different game then you? How would you respond?

I’m not talking about some arbitrary set of rules set forth by people that don’t understand how to play competitively. (You can’t play blue because countering things is cheap or you cannot attack before turn 5 or what have you)

I’m talking about a player that chooses to not play within the confines of the world we all agreed upon we’d be playing in. A player that chooses to not use mana to cast spells, a player that chooses to not draw any cards at all. This player is basically looking to remove any form of interaction from his (or her) games. When you’re not functioning within the same world as your opponent, how are they expecting to be able to beat you?

This is just what happend when we first got introduced to the dredge mechanic.

702.50a. Dredge is a static ability that functions only while the card with dredge is in a player’s graveyard. “Dredge N” means “As long as you have at least N cards in your library, if you would draw a card, you may instead put N cards from the top of your library into your graveyard and return this card from your graveyard to your hand.”

This relatively new ability (hey, I’m getting old here, I still remember banding!) broke most of the formats it was legal in (barring standard where it was just ok) the printing of several key support cards gave this ability even more of a presence.

My friend and teammate Matt Elias has written quite a lot about decks featuring this mechanic in recent weeks and was spot on with his decklist that eventually won the Vintage World Championship at GenCon. In other words, this deck is hot and shows no sign of slowing down. Unlike my fellow writers that write about which dredge list is more optimal or when it’s a correct time to pickup the deck (more on that later) I want to focus on why this deck is the most unfair in the history of Magic.

If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development. –Aristotle

Unlike other decks in Vintage which are basically iterations of decktypes that have existed for years (current Vintage control decks for example share a common ancestor in “The Deck” on a strategic level) dredge is a relatively new deck in this sea of old concepts.
The ability that defines the deck is based on saw print in Ravnica: City of Guilds (2005), that’s a shockingly little total of 6 years where people have had a chance at breaking it. (Since we always break all the nice toys we get)

It took untill the Future Sight expansion (2007) came out for the Dredge deck to really pick up steam with printings like Bridge from Below and Narcomoeba giving the deck an almost combo-esque way of playing.
When people like Flores (Mike not Edgar) are saying the following about a strategy

The problem is that Dredge is so fast and consistent and resilient in the sense that it doesn’t need to actually resolve spells against Blue (and did I mention fast?) that it largely defies hate. Like we said before, one Leyline doesn’t necessarily scare it. In order to keep Dredge down, you have to be honest about beating it. You have to devote the cards. Not card, more than one for most decks… That, or an overall plan ([card]Yixlid Jailer[/card] and [card]Mogg Fanatic[/card], etc). Saving that… If players underestimate the fastest, most powerful, option in the format… It will probably win.

You better understand that this is one powerfull thing to be doing. This statement still rings eerily true as I once fell into the trap of not playing enough ways to deal with dredge and felt prey to the Zombie hordes like many others. I have however been at the Swarms end of the table numerous times as well. I’ve played Dredge in every format it’s been legal in (yes, I even played the wrongly named Dredgevine deck of last years standard) People should also do well to read that article by Flores where I took his quote from (See reference links at the end of this article), it’s still relevant although it talks about dredge in another format.

Great minds taste alike, what makes Zombies tick?

One reason why Dredge decks are so effective, and so hated, is that they break most of the fundamental rules of Magic:

• They play considerably less mana sources than traditional Magic decks. In Vintage, there are even lists that are “manaless” and essentially don’t intend on paying mana to cast any spells at all.
• They effectively ignore the normal hand-size limit. By playing a large number of cards that are cast or returned to play from the Graveyard, the hand size of a Dredge deck is essentially limited only by how many cards it can get into the Graveyard.
• They draw considerably more than one card a turn. Again, by exploiting various cards related to the Graveyard, if a Dredge deck has put 30 cards into the graveyard by turn 3, it has essentially drawn an extra 20+ cards during that time period, a number which almost no deck can match.
• The zone of the game around which they revolve, the Graveyard, is one that traditional Magic decks interact with only minimally.

Therefore in most first-game situations, a Dredge deck is an enormous favorite to win; similarly an opponent must make a conscious decision to purposefully run specific anti-Graveyard cards in order to defeat Dredge. Because it takes many decks between six and eight sideboard cards to defeat a Dredge deck, many people choose not to bother, because they would rather have a fully-functional sideboard against the rest of the field.

All these factors make Dredge an awesome competitor. Which other deck can boast a near 90% win percentage game 1? Playing dredge basically means starting most matches at 1-0 a position that’s pretty comfortable.

The sad part is, games 2-3 are no where near as good as game 1 unless your opponent isn’t prepared and you get to slaughter them once again. This is the really tricky part of playing dredge and the spot where most pilots fall. What type of cards do you bring in? How many cards do you bring in? How do you actually pilot your deck when it gets polluted by Sideboard cards game 2-3? Do you take out all of your [card]Dread Return[/card]s and go straight up beatdown? Etc etc the list goes on and on. I’m not going to answer any of these questions for you today… I’m mean, I know, but it would nearly turn this article into a book so I’ll reserve these for another time.

So when is a good time to bring out the horde ?

This is a rough thing to figure out as Dredge can be hated out and nobody wants to face a field riddled with hate against your deck. That being said, anytime where Dredge hasn’t made a decent showing or was even present is a great time to bring the horde. Examining the metagame of the past few weeks and noticing a drop off in Graveyard hate is also a usefull tactic. People will always go into a false sense of security regarding dredge (a big mistake). Cutting down on Dredge hate because we all hate having it clog up our board and never needing it.

BRAAINZ

So I’m obviously not going to leave you guys without some decklists! There is a slew of things you can focus on with dredge, Speed, resillience etc.
Sun Titan Dredge
By Mark Hornun

[deck]1 Black Lotus
1 Lion’s Eye Diamond
1 Lotus Petal
1 Mox Sapphire
4 Serum Powder
4 Bloodghast
3 Fatestitcher
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
2 Golgari Thug
2 Ichorid
4 Narcomoeba
4 Stinkweed Imp
3 Sun Titan
4 Bridge from Below
1 Ancestral Recall
4 Cabal Therapy
3 Dread Return
4 Bazaar of Baghdad
3 City of Brass
2 Dakmor Salvage
4 Undiscovered Paradise
Sideboard
2 Ancient Grudge
4 Chain of Vapor
2 Darkblast
2 Firestorm
4 Nature’s Claim
1 City of Brass[/deck]

Mark wrote about his list (that got him the title of Vintage World champion) in his SCG article so I don’t think I need to elaborate more. There’s also the option of going more controlling with something like this:
Turtle Dredge
By Matt Elias

[deck]4 Chalice of the Void
4 Serum Powder
Creatures
4 Bloodghast
1 Flame-Kin Zealot
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
2 Golgari Thug
3 Ichorid
4 Narcomoeba
4 Stinkweed Imp
1 Woodfall Primus
4 Bridge from Below
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Darkblast
4 Cabal Therapy
2 Dread Return
3 Unmask
4 Bazaar of Baghdad
2 City of Brass
1 Dakmor Salvage
3 Petrified Field
4 Undiscovered Paradise
Sideboard
2 Serenity
4 Chain of Vapor
1 Darkblast
4 Nature’s Claim
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
2 City of Brass
1 Gemstone Mine[/deck]

This list uses [card]Chalice of the Void[/card] and [card]Unmask[/card] to add resillience at the cost of speed. Both shutdown Graveyard hate like [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card], [card]Ravenous Trap[/card] and whatnot. Taking these two decks as an example, we can clearly see that Dredge as an archetype isn’t as linear is most think it is. You have a lot of room to work against the meta you are expecting. With Innistrad being a graveyard based set, I can definitely say that there is a high probability that we’re going to get some nice new toys to play with.

Untill next time!
Marius “Marske” van Zundert
Marske, on Modo (and everywhere else)
Marske1984 on Twitter (because we need to be hip now don’t we)

Links for Reference:

Dredge by the numbers, by Michael Flores

Zombie Apocalypse: A Victim’s Diary, by Matt Elias

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