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Recurring Nightmares – Dredge Returns

The Humblest of Origins

Since the release of Ravnica, all those years ago, Magic has been plagued by, or blessed with, the presence of a deck which bends each and every rule that makes Magic magic – it all depends on what side of the table you’re sitting on. Dredge, as a deck, has existed in each format it is legal in – from the [card]Drowned Rusalka[/card] fueled Standard deck, to the [card]Hedron Crab[/card]/[card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card] Extended builds (and who can forget Dredge-a-Tog?), to the Legacy deck powered by [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card] and [card]Breakthrough[/card] (for zero), to the granddaddy of them all, the Vintage Dredge lists fueled by [card]Bazaar of Baghdad[/card] and [card]Serum Powder[/card] – the Dredge mechanic has left its mark on Magic: the Gathering. There is a disheartening slump of the shoulders, a feeling of exasperation that comes with sitting across the table from a dredge deck as the opponent puts a [card]Golgari Grave-Troll[/card] into their graveyard. It’s a feeling of hopelessness, of all expectations of interaction going out the window, and of scrambling to play an entirely different game than you had intended.

And that slump – that heaving sigh – is exactly why you play Dredge.

Dredge – Mitchell Zelmanovich – 16th at SCG Open Baltimore

[deck]1 Flame-Kin Zealot
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
2 Golgari Thug
3 Ichorid
4 Narcomoeba
4 Putrid Imp
1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Tireless Tribe
4 Bridge from Below
4 Breakthrough
4 Cabal Therapy
4 Careful Study
3 Dread Return
4 Cephalid Coliseum
4 City of Brass
4 Gemstone Mine
2 Tarnished Citadel
Sideboard:
1 Ancestor’s Chosen
1 Angel of Despair
3 Ancient Grudge
3 Firestorm
3 Nature’s Claim
4 Unmask[/deck]

The Dredge deck represents a unique role in the Legacy metagame. This role really stems from the fact that as a strategy, it is unique to the game. While other decks can and do use the Graveyard as a resource – Reanimator, Aggro-Loam, Lands, etc – none are quite as set up to abuse the graveyard in the same fashion that Dredge does.

This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you are fortunate enough to be playing a deck that “draws” more cards than even mono-blue control. You get recursive creatures, and largely ignore the plays made by your opponents unless they directly impact your ability to do what you want to do. On the other hand, the few cards that actually do allow your opponent to interact with you are devastating to your strategy, and take significant planning or skill (or both) to play around.

As a format becomes more based on interactions on the stack, as opposed to interactions on the battlefield, Dredge becomes a natural predator. Since the deck can operate without use of the stack – in the sense of playing without casting spells – blue decks have been its natural prey since the deck first hit the scene. Once again, unlike other grave-based decks like Reanimator, which must resolve key spells in order to function, Dredge has a plan of attack that completely invalidates the permission of its blue-based opponents. Going back to the deck’s role, it exists as a check and balance for the blue aggro-control and control decks, which can otherwise become dominant – but in a fashion which allows them to seem “fair,” since the decks don’t inherently do anything broken themselves.

As Legacy has long been a blue-dominated format, with few periods of exception, it would seem that Dredge would always be a strong deck choice, but unfortunately (or fortunately – again, depending on which side of the table you’re on) the linear nature of the format makes it incredibly vulnerable to being hated out during those times in which a field is properly prepared with sideboard solutions. The deck also has an unfortunate tendency to lose to itself – mulliganing hands that lack action until it takes itself out of the game. In my personal experience, it’s this instability that has caused more of my victories against Dredge in tournament play than any kind of reactive hate I’ve brought to the table. On the other hand, when things go right, in an under- or unprepared field, Dredge can seem nearly unbeatable.

Innovation

This weekend, the SCG Open series came to Cincinnati, OH to put the Midwest on alert and see what the release of M12 had to offer to Legacy. In short, the additions to the format based on the new core set release can be counted on zero fingers, so we’re left looking at the innovations driven by factors not including new cards. And we have managed to dig up a few of those, for certain.

“Manaless” Dredge – Nicholas Rausch

[deck]4 Bloodghast
3 Gigapede
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Golgari Thug
4 Ichorid
4 Narcomoeba
4 Nether Shadow
4 Phantasmagorian
4 Shambling Shell
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Street Wraith
1 Woodfall Primus
4 Bridge from Below
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
4 Cabal Therapy
4 Dread Return
3 Dakmor Salvage
Sideboard:
1 Inkwell Leviathan
1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
1 Ancestor’s Chosen
1 Blazing Archon
1 Gigapede
1 Stormtide Leviathan
1 Terastodon
4 Contagion
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Llawan, Cephalid Empress[/deck]

Nicholas managed to put up a 7-1-1 record in the swiss, and entered the top 8 in sixth place, where he faced off against Reuben Bresler’s Mono-U control (about the best possible matchup) before dispatching Brian Boss’s Junk Depths deck in the semifinals. Although graciously conceding to ChannelFireball’s own Caleb Durward in the finals, he did take home the trophy, leaving Caleb with the Open Points, and handily won the match for “posterity’s sake” after the split was worked out.

As you can see, this deck represents a significant right turn from the Dredge decks we’re used to battling in Legacy. Devoid of discard outlets like [card]Putrid Imp[/card] and [card]Tireless Tribe[/card], the deck utilizes [card]Gigapede[/card] and the up-to-now proxy fodder [card]Phantasmagorian[/card] as ways to keep the dredgers in the graveyard – where they belong.

While we’ve seen [card]Gigapede[/card] utilized in Dredge before, [card]Phantasmagorian[/card] opens up a new avenue for the deck. Discarding it at the end of your first turn (we’ll get to that in a moment) allows you to dump a serious amount of gas into the yard before your first draw, and having multiples, or access to it and a [card]Gigapede[/card], means you’ll be able to cycle between the two to keep the engine going. This gives you access to a new form of discard outlet that doesn’t rely on having a creature in play – which allows you to both play around any countermagic which would stop it from hitting play, as well as any removal spells that would be turned on by playing the creature.

The lack of mana in the deck (aside from a trio of [card]Dakmor Salvage[/card]s) gives you an additional number of slots to fill with redundant pieces of Dredge cards, like [card]Shambling Shell[/card] – which was previously deemed “not good enough,” but here it serves the dual purpose of being a dredge card and a black creature for [card]Ichorid[/card] purposes. You can also jam an additional four “free” creatures into the deck – the O.G. of living dead, [card]Nether Shadow[/card]. For a very long time, players have been trying to utilize his ability to circumvent the stack, and this deck is obviously well set-up to do so. The addition of the [card]Nether Shadow[/card]s gives even more reliability to your [card]Dread Return[/card]s, and represents a [card]Narcomoeba[/card]-like effect that recurs, or if you prefer, an [card]Ichorid[/card]-like effect that doesn’t provide diminishing returns.

Because the deck lacks the ability to run explosive cards that are present in its “mana’d” cousins, such as [card]Careful Study[/card], [card]Deep Analysis[/card], [card]Cephalid Coliseum[/card], etc. it replaces them with more redundancy, along with [card]Street Wraith[/card]s to cycle for free and increase the speed with which it can “go off.” Using your discard step to pitch a Grave-Troll (or really any dredger), a [card]Phantasmagorian[/card], or a [card]Gigapede[/card], and then cycling a [card]Street Wraith[/card] prior to your draw step allows you to effectively negate the disadvantage you’d incur by choosing to draw first.

Have I mentioned that this deck wants to draw first in every single game?

The reasons for these developments in the list, and its divergence from the builds we’re used to seeing, revolves around the changes in the metagame as we adapt to the world of [card]Mental Misstep[/card]. Of course, with the adoption of Misstep into nearly every blue deck in Legacy, the prominence of answers for the enablers like [card]Careful Study[/card], [card]Putrid Imp[/card], [card]Breakthrough[/card], etc. continues to increase across the board. At the same time, even non-blue decks are jumping on the Misstep bandwagon and running the card – which means your matchups which were virtual byes (blue decks) are now interacting with you more successfully, and your non-bye matchups gained additional percentages.

There were two ways for the Dredge deck to circumvent this kind of interaction from the opponent. The first was to overload the blue deck (which is basically every deck at this point) with “must counters” like [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card] and [card]Breakthrough[/card] – also known as the All-In plan, or alternatively, to ignore the board and the stack entirely and shift to a “Draw, Discard, Dredge” plan to get the engine online.

The first method has been less and less successful even prior to the introduction of [card]Mental Misstep[/card] into the fold. More and more lists were cutting the [card]Lion’s Eye Diamond[/card]s and relying on the discard step to be their enabler. The Lion’s Eye builds still had the potential to be absurdly fast and represent the turn 1 or turn 2 wins, but players with experience would argue that this was simply unnecessary – that the deck had enough power and reach against all non-combo decks to make the combo kill win-more. They chose to add lands like [card]Dakmor Salvage[/card] and [card]Undiscovered Paradise[/card], along with [card]Bloodghast[/card], to create inevitability rather than speed. They began to recognize the merit in playing last in order to ignore their opponent even more than they previously could.

Nicholas, and a few developers before him, finally asked themselves the important questions – if our best plan against the majority of the field is to draw first, discard, and dredge, then why bother playing any of the other cards that interact with the opponent at all? What good are lands that don’t dredge when you don’t ever plan to play them? Why wouldn’t you want to streamline your deck to just be the best “Draw, Discard, Dredge” deck ever built? Good question.

This deck changes the way Legacy metagames will develop, possibly forever. It exists as an anomaly within the game, as a deck that ignores more than one of the fundamental rules of Magic – Each player draws one card during their draw step. Spells require you to pay mana (and therefore, lands to access mana) in order to cast them. There now exists a deck that can operate completely outside the realm of interaction on the stack, on the field, or really anywhere, and puts the onus on its opponent to play the game where they want to play it, or else. Because of this, every Legacy deck must be prepared to do so, or else risk being ignored along the path to their own demise. It’s a different animal than traditional Dredge – it’s like comparing a snake in the grass to a dragon in your front yard. You may be wary of the snake, but if the dragon shows up, it tends to get real.

Effectively Battling the Deck

As I said above, Dredge has two specific vulnerabilities – its linearity, and its inconsistency. While the latter has been an exploitable advantage for some time, I think the newest build of the deck has done a lot to remove that issue. Where previously, a turn one [card]Thoughtseize[/card] had been reasonable as disruption, often taking the discard outlet or draw spell to slow the Dredge deck down, that possibility is less likely with the manaless build. You’d consider yourself lucky if you managed to hit a [card]Bridge from Below[/card], simply to keep them from DDD for another turn. I’d consider around 20 of the cards in the deck “good” targets for [card]Thoughtseize[/card], and even those are tepid at best. Along with the proactive disruption, there was always the possibility of [card]Force of Will[/card] or [card]Mental Misstep[/card] on one of the discard outlets. That is, of course, right out. This build is nearly impervious to that type of disruption, so leave the Forces at home.

On the other hand, the new builds appear to be even more vulnerable to dedicated graveyard hate. A [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] on turn 0 appears to be literally unbeatable for manaless Dredge. A [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card] on the play appears to be almost as impossible to stop. These are serious considerations that a Dredge player must try to play around/through, and backed by any sort of clock, it will be difficult for them to do it in time, if at all. The best defense against this style of Dredge is a simple one – be prepared for it, don’t underestimate it, and give it the sideboard respect it deserves. If I were walking into an event this weekend, I would dedicate no less than four slots to the matchup, in literally any deck I chose to play, because of the spotlight shone on the build during the SCG Open this past weekend. There will be players trying to get a jump on the metagame while it’s still a bit underprepared, so don’t be caught with your pants down.

I’ve discussed in previous articles which cards I feel are effective against Dredge and which aren’t, but I’ll briefly cover it again for the sake of convenience.

The good – [card]Tormod’s Crypt[/card], [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card], [card]Wheel of Sun and Moon[/card], [card]Leyline of the Void[/card], [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card], [card]Ravenous Trap[/card]

The ok – [card]Extirpate[/card], [card]Surgical Extraction[/card], [card]Coffin Purge[/card]-like effects, [card]Phyrexian Furnace[/card], [card]Scrabbling Claws[/card], [card]Bojuka Bog[/card]

Despite what your friends may be telling you, [card]Surgical Extraction[/card] and [card]Extirpate[/card] are not sufficient as hate for Dredge. They are fine as tools in the matchup, and are much better at hating Loam decks and Reanimator, but as generic graveyard hate, they are weak. [card]Bojuka Bog[/card] is much better as a bullet in a [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] deck obviously, but don’t be in a hurry to rush it out on turn 4. Choosing the appropriate time to blindside them with it is a skill worth tuning. Don’t be surprised if they’re able to play around it anyway, as a Dredge player will be assuming this line of play as soon as they see the Knight.

One of my favorite Vintage plays was to cast [card]Timetwister[/card] against a Dredge opponent. This play is reasonable in Legacy if you have the opportunity to get to [card]Time Spiral[/card] mana or [card]Diminishing Return[/card]s mana from your combo deck.

If you believe your opponent to be on Manaless Dredge, choose to draw first. It is equivalent to playing and drawing first in that matchup.

With these tools at your disposal, you are in a much better position to win your matches against Dredge. Remember, it’s about the work you do before you turn in your deck registration sheet, just as much as your decisions in-game.

In other news, I’ve finally managed to get my ducks in a row for recording video content. I’m currently battling my Internet provider to get a better connection rate so my uploads take less than a year. Once that issue is resolved, I’ll begin by running out a Cube Draft video from last week when I drafted with Thea Steele’s cube. You can all take a look at some of the worst Magic I’ve ever played, with one of the most fun decks I’ve ever drafted. When you hear players lament about how difficult it is to commentate and play at the same time, believe it. It’s harder than it looks.

That’s what I’ve got for this week, folks. Until next time, may your dredges be gas, and your opponents’ be blanks, and remember – keep your stick on the ice!

Adam
@AdamNightmare

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