Hey everyone, Oliver Tomajko, 2017 Magic: The Gathering U.S. National Champion and Gold Pro—for however long that lasts—here! I have been playing lots of Dredge recently, because I enjoy winning. Dredge is a wildly powerful deck and, at the moment, people are just not giving it the respect it deserves, relying on only a few copies of Surgical Extraction to combat this beast. Simply put, that is not enough.
If you also enjoy winning, then continue reading to learn all I know about the best deck in Modern. This will be the first of two articles on Dredge. This one breaks down the deck and specific card choices, and the second goes in-depth on how to play and sideboard with Dredge against the current best Modern decks.
4 Stinkweed Imp 1 Golgari Thug 4 Life from the Loam 2 Darkblast
Eleven dredge cards is pretty standard for the modern-day Dredge deck. Before Creeping Chill entered the game, most lists usually had one additional dredge card, but cuts had to be made for access to the Lightning Helix impersonator. Stinkweed Imp and Life from the Loam are stock 4-ofs. Imp because it looks at the most cards now that Golgari Grave-Troll is (rightfully) back on the ban list, and Loam because the ability of the card is key for picking up excess lands for Bloodghast and Conflagrate. The other three dredge cards are usually a mix of Golgari Thug and Darkblast. Thug mills an additional card, but Darkblast has utility apart from the dredge ability, especially against decks like Humans and Affinity where it is extremely potent. For this reason, I’ve opted to play a 2-1 split in favor of Darkblast.
4 Shriekhorn 4 Faithless Looting 4 Cathartic Reunion
Again, stock for a Dredge deck. Shriekhorn used to not even show up in Dredge lists back when Grave-Troll was legal, with people opting for the more explosive Insolent Neonate instead, but now Shriekhorn is the norm, as it gives the deck a needed boost of consistency. Magic Online Dredge master Sodek compared Shriekhorn to Ancient Stirrings—you basically get to look in your top 6 cards for a dredger and you get the added bonus of any payoff cards you mill as well. Sounds like a Super Stirrings to me!
The other two cards, Looting and Reunion, are obvious inclusions. By now, everyone knows how strong Faithless Looting is, with some even calling for its banning. It’s a super powerful card, and it is at its absolute best in the Dredge deck. Looting is perfect for setting up your dredgers because of the discard half, and then a couple turns later you get to flash it back and use the draw half to get additional dredges. The best part is that while you’re dredging, you are putting more copies of Looting into the graveyard, allowing you to just repeat the process every turn. Faithless Looting could not have a more perfect home. Cathartic Reunion, a less blatantly powerful card, is also amazing in this deck. You haven’t lived until you’ve cast a turn-2 Reunion discarding two Stinkweed Imps. I’ve had games where I end my second turn with 7+ power on the table and my opponent at 14 life with me at 26. Your opponent will feel embarrassed to have cast a Serum Visions on turn 1.
4 Bloodghast 4 Narcomoeba 4 Prized Amalgam 4 Creeping Chill 2 Conflagrate
Now time for the best, or at least my favorite, part of the deck. Call me sadistic, but I just love it when people grunt or roll their eyes as I mill over these graveyard delights! Once again, this is a pretty typical payoff lineup (we’re here to win, not innovate!). The 12 recursive creatures are what make your dredge mills so terrifying. They allow for the deck to be super explosive by straight-up ignoring typical Magic rules. The combination of Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam, along with Life from the Loam, is especially scary because it basically means a never-ending supply of threats. Even if all of your Bloodghasts and Amalgams somehow die, you can just bring them all back with a single land drop. As a result, it is almost impossible to out-grind Dredge without some way to exile the creatures for good.
Dredge’s newest weapon, Creeping Chill, is what took Dredge from merely a contender in Modern to an all-star. It might be hard to truly grasp the power of this inconspicuous 15th-pick Draft chaff—I also underrated it at first—but the card is just everything the deck could want. One of Dredge’s weaknesses is that is takes a little while to get going. You spend your first couple of turns putting dredgers in the graveyard, but, barring a fast Reunion start, you usually don’t get to see a ton of cards until turn 3 when you begin flashing-back Lootings. Even then, your Amalgams are coming into play tapped and your Bloodghasts can’t block. This lack of early defenses allowed for the possibility of the Dredge deck to get blitzed out by a fast draw. Creeping Chill completely reverses this. The additional chunk of life you will gain in the early turns makes racing Dredge an absolute nightmare, and this is only compounded by the damage you inflict from the Chills. It is difficult to actually conceptualize how much of an impact this has on any racing matchup, but just imagine you start every game with two free Lightning Helixes on suspend. Crazy, huh?
Creeping Chill is not just key in the racing matchups, it’s great against any deck that invalidates creatures. Whir Prison and Tron are two of the main ones, with Tron using Ugin and Karn to exile your creatures, and Prison using Ensnaring Bridge to stop you from attacking. Against these decks, you often get in a few hits with your creatures, but eventually they are able to shut off that angle of attack. With older Dredge lists, you would have to hope to be able to finish them off with a large Conflagrate. This sometimes worked, but it was slow and easy to interact with. With Chill, you now have a bucket-load of direct damage to give you inevitability. While it is not going to do the job 100% of the time, you are much more likely to succeed at burning your opponent out. I won’t make this whole article about Creeping Chill (though I probably could) but I promise it really is the bee’s knees.
Rounding out the payoffs, we have a pair of Conflagrates. Conflagrate is a nice multi-purpose card, which is one of your best possible cards against any creature strategy. And, as I just said, you can use it to finish your opponent off after getting in with some creatures and Chills. Loam makes it so that you can cast Conflagrates for an upwards of 12 damage in one shot.
The Mana Base
2 Scalding Tarn 2 Arid Mesa 2 Bloodstained Mire 1 Wooded Foothills 2 Blood Crypt 2 Stomping Ground 1 Steam Vents 4 Copperline Gorge 1 Gemstone Mine 2 Mountain
The mana base can be split into three parts: fetches, fetchables, and painless lands. I play 7 red fetchlands. It doesn’t matter which 7 fetches you play, as long as they search for a Mountain. I chose this spread because I wanted to insulate myself best against Pithing Needle and Sorcerous Spyglass so I don’t end up with a bunch of dead fetchlands when I could have prevented it. Dredge is mainly a mono-red deck, but you have some splashes for green, black, and blue so that you can cast your Loams and creatures, and the fetchlands let you splash with ease. The fetchable lands include the standard 2 of each Stomping Ground, Blood Crypt, and Mountain, and I also chose to include a 1-of Steam Vents. The Vents is a concession to graveyard hate as you will be forced to cast your Narcomoeba and Amalgams the hard way in some games. It might seem a bit makeshift, but I have won more games by hard-casting Amalgams and Stinkweeds and Creeping Chills than I can count, so don’t scoff at it!
Lastly, we have the Copperline Gorges and the Gemstone Mine. The Gorges are perfect because Dredge’s first three land drops are the only ones you do not have much control over, so having an R/G dual land that doesn’t inflict self-damage is ideal. The one Gemstone is a cute little inclusion that is there to mainly give you a really good Loam target. Gemstone always comes in untapped for the cost of no life and gives you access to all your colors, so it is basically the perfect land to get back with a late-game Loam.
Sideboard 4 Nature's Claim 3 Ancient Grudge 3 Lightning Axe 2 Leyline of the Void 2 Surgical Extraction 1 Assassin’s Trophy
Dredge’s sideboard is hard to build and always changing because it is all dependent on what you expect for the weekend. Right now this is what I like, but next weekend it could be different. As such, I am going to give a quick breakdown of all the usual suspects of a potential Dredge sideboard, and when you would want to register them.
Almost always three or four. Your deck obviously can’t function while a Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace is in play, and Claim is the cheapest and most efficient answer to these enchantments, so it is a necessary inclusion for that reason.
Usually two or three. Grafdigger’s Cage is this deck’s worst nightmare—you’ve got to kill it or it will kill you. Additionally, the Scales/Affinity and Prison decks are some of the harder matchups for Dredge, and Grudge is the best card against those decks. Dredge makes better use of Grudge than most decks because you get to use it even if you dredge it into the graveyard.
At the moment, always three or four. Key for killing Thing in the Ice against Phoenix. Dredge doesn’t have any way to deal with large creatures besides Conflagrate, so Axe helps to remedy that. Axe can be completely backbreaking against Death’s Shadow, Humans, and any other deck that heavily relies on creatures.
Leyline of the Void/Surgical Extraction (Graveyard Hate)
Usually three or four. These slots are mainly for the mirror, but also against any random graveyard deck like Storm and Goryo’s Vengeance, which are often bad matchups. Generally, I would lean toward playing three or four Leyline since it is the most powerful graveyard hate card, but I am going with a split of two Leyline and two Surgical because I wanted to have a few Surgicals to bring in against Izzet Phoenix, while also still having a functional piece of graveyard hate for the mirror. This isn’t set in stone however, since it is possible that Leyline might end up being better than Surgical against Phoenix anyway if the Phoenix decks continue to increase the number of Pyromancer’s Ascensions they are playing.
Assassin’s Trophy/Abrupt Decay/Engineered Explosives
Usually one, maybe two. These are all flexible answers to whatever needs to be answered. Trophy is best when you want another way to deal with Leyline. Decay is good against a Chalice on 2, and nice as a way around Stubborn Denial out of Death’s Shadow, and is also better in the early game than Trophy. Explosives is slower than the other two, but is capable of killing more than one thing at a time, so it is great against decks like Humans. These three cards are pretty similar, so it just depends on which one seems best for the weekend.
Stain the Mind
Sometimes one or two. This card is not always played in Dredge’s board because it is so narrow. Stain gives you a pretty sick out to some of the deck’s hardest matchups—Amulet Titan and Ad Nauseam. It is really unlikely for Dredge to beat either of these decks with its typical strategy, but Stain makes it so you can steal a win by just stripping the opponent’s deck of its marquee card. Fortunately, these decks are not too popular, so you usually will not have to face them, but if you expect to face this deck more than once in a weekend, Stain the Mind is where it’s at.
Sometimes one. Pharaoh is good against any deck that tries to ride one creature to victory, and is specifically amazing versus Grixis Death’s Shadow. A good interaction to keep in mind is that Pharaoh will trigger after the first hit from a double striking creature and kill it before the second hit goes through. This card is not very flexible, but if Shadow ever has an uptick in popularity, I would happily add one of these to my sideboard.
Sometimes one. This was more important while Tron was a bad matchup. Now that the matchup is a lot better, the Sphere is not so necessary. And it’s not very good against Amulet Titan because they are still able to Titan to loop Bojuka Bog, so Stain the Mind is better there. If you expect a lot of Tron, then Damping Sphere is a good inclusion.
Sometimes one. I’ll be honest—I’m not a fan of Brutality. It is good against Burn, Control, and Collected Company decks, but the first two of those are already your best matchups, and Company decks are almost non-existent at the moment, so I wouldn’t waste a sideboard slot on them. But if you are playing an event where you anticipate playing against multiple Burn decks, then including a Brutality is probably a fine idea.
Mulliganing with Dredge is one of the hardest aspects of the deck to master. Dredge is unique in that it disregards traditional metrics of card advantage. The number of cards in your hand is mostly irrelevant with Dredge because as soon as you get a dredger in you graveyard, you will be able to churn through you deck faster than any other deck in the format. Over a third of the deck are cards that create some sort of advantage when put into the graveyard, so every time you mill a card, you are basically drawing one-third of a card. And that isn’t even taking into account in the fact that you get to play these cards without using any mana! Because of this strength, Dredge can easily win games on mulligans to even four cards. All you need is a way to put a dredge card into the graveyard and two lands (one of which is a green source). It is important to have at least two lands because you want to be able to cast a Life from the Loam. Once you Loam, you will then have enough mana to start flashing back Faithless Lootings and turbo-dredging through your whole deck. Being able to Loam is also essential for having lands to trigger Bloodghast’s recursion ability, and the extra cards from Loam can help you stockpile cards for Conflagrate.
I would easily mulligan any seven-card hard that does not have one of your 12 enablers (Shriekhorn/Looting/Reunion). And even some hands with just Shriekhorn are too slow to keep on seven cards. I cannot stress enough how important it is to begin dredging as quickly as possible. Hands where your plan is to cast Conflagrate for 0 on turn 1, and flash it back on turn 2 to discard your dredgers (and other Bloodghasts and Amalgams) are almost always too slow. Same with any hand where your first play is a Loam on turn 2, and your first dredge is on turn 3. It might be tempting to keep these hands, but Dredge is not a typical deck, since you need to little to have a good draw. Sometimes you will end up losing a game because you mulligan to four cards and your hand still sucks, but that is one of the trade-offs for getting to play a deck as powerful as Dredge. When in doubt, it is probably correct to mulligan. I suggest you practice your mulliganing by goldfishing Dredge hands so you are extra familiar with the range of hands you want to be keeping.
With that, I am going to bring part one to a close. Stay tuned for the second installment where I break down how to play and sideboard against the top decks in Modern, and give you some tips and tricks to help you maximize you Dredge abilities!