Last week I wrote about my experiences testing and playing Dredge, which led to a Top 8 at Grand Prix Dallas. Now I want to take a look into the Dredge deck itself, and break down how to pilot the deck and the kinds of decisions you’ll make along the way.
First of all, this is the list I played.
Basics of Playing Dredge
The deck is surprisingly hard to play, so it’s worth getting in a lot of testing with the deck in a variety of matchups to understand how to sequence your cards and play it. A lot of matchups play out the same way, but certain cards have added utility in some matchups. Stinkweed Imp is a good blocker against a lot of decks, and Golgari Grave-Troll is a good threat in some matchups.
The most important thing to realize is that once you start dredging cards, you never get a fresh draw again. What that means is that once you start to dredge cards, you want to make sure you have all the tools you’ll need for the rest of the game to function, and if you lack those tools, then naturally drawing is sometimes, but not always, a better option. It’s also important to know that you don’t necessarily have to have those tools in your hand already, as some of them can be later acquired through dredging, like lands via Life from the Loam and Dakmor Salvage. Always have a reason to dredge a specific card over other options. If you can’t think of a reason to dredge a card, just naturally draw instead.
Over the course of the game, you’re going to need to do a handful of things. You’re going to want to play lands to return Bloodghast to play. You’re going to need to be able to flashback Conflagrate, which requires 2 red sources, and you’re going to want to be able to flashback Faithless Looting or Rally the Peasants, or unearth Scourge Devil, all which require 3 lands. Sometimes you will also need to be able to use Life from the Loam to set up your lands to be able to hardcast big threats like Golgari Grave-Troll or Stinkweed Imp.
Generally speaking, if you have a hand that has 2 lands, and one of those lands produces green mana, then you’re set to be able to do anything you want to do over the course of the game, thanks to Life from the Loam, which you will dredge into your graveyard at some point. Life from the Loam is really the centerpiece of this deck, as it allows you to bridge the gap from your opening hand to the midgame. It also provides extra fodder for Conflagrate, and is often the best card to dredge every turn later in the game.
Even if you have a hand that doesn’t have access to green mana, meaning you won’t ever be able to cast Life from the Loam without naturally drawing a green source, it doesn’t mean that it’s automatically a bad hand. For an example of a hand like this being successful, you can watch a match I played on coverage against Tron at GP Dallas in round 13.
I kept a hand that had no green mana, and was able to still win the game because I was able to dredge Dakmor Salvage at some point later in the game to return Bloodghasts to play. Dakmor Salvage is also an important part of the deck, as there are many times where you want to continue dredging, don’t want to spend your turn casting Life from the Loam, and want to hit a land drop to bring back Bloodghast. Salvage provides that option.
One of the hardest parts of playing the deck is knowing what kinds of hands to keep. You basically only want to keep hands that “do something.” What that means is that you have Cathartic Reunion, Insolent Neonate, or Faithless Looting to discard cards, and then access to a card with dredge to be able to begin the process of dredging. You also need to find Prized Amalgams, Narcomoebas, and Bloodghasts along the way to actually start putting power into play.
I’m not going to keep a hand that only has dredge cards and no way to get them into the graveyard. It’s not worth the risk of not drawing one of the 12 enablers fast enough. The exception is when I’ve already mulliganed down to 4 or 5 cards. Then I’ll keep a speculative hand if I have some lands to work with, or alternatively keep a no-land hand if I have all the tools I’ll need to win if I do draw the land. Fun fact, I’ve won over 50% of the games where I’ve missed my 1st land drop with Dredge. Deck is explosive and powerful.
On the other hand, I will keep some, but not all, hands where I have enablers but not dredgers. For example, I’d easily keep a hand with Faithless Looting and Cathartic Reunion and a few lands, even if I don’t have a dredger. As long as you have draw power, you can find dredgers eventually. The hand will be slower, but still functional. For an example of one of my favorite dredge hands I’ve ever kept, I had a game where I went turn-1 Faithless Looting discarding 2 Bloodghasts, and turn-2 Faithless Looting discarding 2 Prized Amalgams, followed by a 2nd land. I didn’t draw any cards with dredge that game, but I still accomplished the entire point of what those dredge cards are supposed to do—put Prized Amalgams and Ghasts into play early and often.
Advanced Tips and Tricks
Here is a non-exclusive list of some tips for piloting the deck.
• Use the second main phase. If you’re going to activate Shriekhorn or Insolent Neonate on your opponent’s turn, do so in the 2nd main phase, not the end step, nearly always. Let’s say you discard a Golgari Grave-Troll to Neonate and then dredge it back. If you hit Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam, the Narcomoeba will come into play, triggering the Prized Amalgam. If you did this 2nd main phase, the Prized Amalgam will come into play on your opponent’s end step and can attack on your turn. If you did it end step, the Prized Amalgam will come into play on your end step instead, and you’ll be sad.
• Do everything you can before playing a land each turn. This can mean playing and activating Insolent Neonate, casting Faithless Looting, casting Cathartic Reunion, or even flashing back Conflagrate and discarding Prized Amalgams and Bloodghasts. That way, you put the maximum number of cards into your graveyard before playing a land, making it more likely that you can return more Bloodghasts to play.
• Lands in hand are really important throughout the game. I would almost always discard any card in hand over a land if forced to choose. Exceptions are late in the game when you already have a ton of lands in play, where keeping Golgari Grave-Trolls in hand to hardcast is actually useful.
• Insolent Neonate is a better card to lead on than Faithless Looting in your best hands, and Looting is better in your worst hands. If you have everything you need already, lead on Neonate. If you’re missing a piece, such as a 2nd land, lead on Looting. You generally want to preserve your draw spells for when you already have dredgers in your graveyard, which is why starting on Neonate can make Faithless Looting better.
• Conflagrate can be used as a discard outlet. You can also cast Conflagrate with no targets for 1 mana. This is often useful to just get it into the graveyard to use later. This is the best way to beat Scavenging Ooze, outside of just putting too much power into play too fast for Ooze to keep up with. On turn 3, cast Conflagrate for 0, and then since you still have priority before they eat it with Ooze, flash it back with enough cards to kill the Ooze (remembering that the cards you discard can be eaten before the Conflagrate resolves). I wouldn’t cast a Conflag for 0 with no reason, though. Having an extra card in hand is valuable for other Conflagrates you might dredge over.
• Bloodghast has haste if they have 10 or less life. You can use Conflagrate to drop them below 10, giving freshly returned Bloodghasts haste to finish the job. You can also use this to play around cards like Anger of the Gods in some situations. Let’s say an attack brings them below 10 life. You can just sit on a land and wait till the next turn to play it to return Bloodghasts with haste instead of returning them immediately. Bloodghast’s ability is also a may, meaning you don’t have to bring it back, which is important to play around Anger of the Gods with fetchlands.
• Narcomoeba is also a may ability. Some small amount of the time it’s worth not bringing Narcomoeba back, since Prized Amalgam is not a may, and bringing back Prized Amalgam can play into an Ugin or Anger of the Gods. Sometimes you have enough power in play already and don’t want to overextend, or have a fetchland in play and Bloodghasts in the graveyard to be able to bring back Prized Amalgam during your opponent’s end step, which is better timing.
• When discarding cards from Faithless Looting, the priority is to ensure you have a dredge card in your graveyard, and after that it’s better to get a Prized Amalgam or Bloodghast in there rather than a second dredge card. For example, I’d discard Golgari Grave-Troll and Prized Amalgam over Golgari Grave-Troll and Stinkweed Imp.
• To play around graveyard hate cards like Relic of Progenitus and Nihil Spellbomb, the key is to slowly dredge enough to force them to blow it up, but not go too all-in to make sure you can follow up afterward with something reasonable after they do.
• Use the upkeep. You can cast Darkblast in upkeep and then dredge it back, or Lightning Axe to discard a dredger, or Shriekhorn to dig deeper. You can also use Nature’s Claim in response to Narcomoeba or Bloodghast triggers to blow up a Grafdigger’s Cage.
• Once you’ve got the graveyard engine going, you actually want to use Shriekhorn when you have Narcomoeba triggers on the stack to find more Prized Amalgams, or use it on your opponent’s second main phase to find Narcomoebas. You can also save it to rebuild after a Relic of Progenitus if that’s a consideration. You can also mess up your opponent’s Serum Visions with it. I wouldn’t just use it for no reason.
• Prized Amalgam can trigger other Prized Amalgams. Let’s say you bring back Bloodghast and trigger a Prized Amalgam in the ‘yard. Then you flashback Faithless Looting and mill over a few more Prized Amalgams. When that first Prized Amalgam comes back into play during your end step, it will trigger the newer Prized Amalgams, which will come back during your opponent’s end step.
One last tip: It’s important to make puns while playing Dredge. Sometimes it’s just a Conflagrate, but other times it kills 3 creatures and puts your opponent under 10 life. Then it’s Conflagreat, and knowing that difference is key to success.