Cromulantkeith’s Dredge Primer, Part 1

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The goal of this article (and the following one tomorrow) is to provide you with a thorough analysis of the Dredge archetype as it exists in today’s Standard. This articles will start off by discussing some of the general cards used in the dredge decks, followed by a thorough matchup analysis tomorrow. I will also present an overview on how to design your own Dredge deck based on the strengths of each card in each matchup. This way, you will be able to build a Dredge deck LEGO-Style, and reap some benefit from my extensive playtesting, to put you a step ahead of the average Joe playing Dredge.

[Editor’s Note — This excellent article replaces today’s “The Online Outlook.” With Grand Prix: Montreal in the books, I thought it best to wait a week before tackling the online Block Constructed metagame.]

Dredge is a very unique deck compared to many decks of the past. Dredge was introduced way back in Ravnica, which is close to four decades ago. Since then, seven sets have come out (Guildpact, Dissention, Ninth Edition, Coldsnap, Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, Future Sight). The core of the dredge deck occupies roughly two thirds of the deckspace. This means that there are many cards competing for the remainder of the slots in the deck. Dredge is highly customizable, and can be made to play completely differently between versions.

Before we begin, I’d like to state a few things that Dredge is and isn’t. First, it is powerful. Extremely powerful. So powerful that the Standard format as a whole was forced to react in order to deal with it. It is also vulnerable. The hate that exists in Standard today was largely printed to combat the strength of some Extended, Legacy, and Vintage decks. This hate is violent, unforgiving, and completely ruthless. The Dredge deck is very robust in that it can fight around several pieces of intense hatred. However, throw enough at it, and it crumbles. Does that make it fragile? I don’t think so, but many do.

A few things that Dredge isn’t. It isn’t the apocalypse. The sky isn’t falling. Dredge can be beaten, and it can be beaten soundly. It has many cards that you don’t want to draw, so when they are drawn, it is as bad as a mulligan. If this happens several times per game, it is the equivalent of mulliganing several times. Thankfully, Dredge doesn’t draw its cards unless something has gone terribly wrong. It can be disrupted with lots of creature kill and graveyard hate. To counter its fragility in those respects, it is built to withstand such disruption. However, a lot of that burden rests with the pilot of the deck. I have written this Dredge primer in order to provide Dredge pilots with tricks and tips on how to make themselves less vulnerable to the hate that you see.

Let’s start off by looking at some of the card choices available to a Dredge deck designer…

Card Choices

Enabler Suite

The first thing to discuss regarding card choices is which enablers to use. The most important aspects to consider are mana cost, activation cost, and enabler style.

Mana Cost
The core of the Dredge deck strength is in its speed. The cheaper the enablers are, the earlier they come into play. This means that opponents generally have fewer options to deal with them in time. The difference between a first turn and second turn enabler is gigantic in terms of the amount of answers an opponent can be expected to have.

Activation Cost
The Green enablers require Green mana to activate. The Blue ones are free.

Enabler Style
All enablers allow you to discard a card. The Blue enablers complement that by letting you draw a card. The Green ones instead give you either a 1/1 mana elf, or a land to ensure further mana development. Spell enablers generally dredge harder, but are a one-time deal, and don’t leave a creature behind for Dread Return.

Green enablers tend to complement control strategies, while Blue enablers tend to complement combo strategies. I see a lot of mistakes people make when choosing enabler suites. When deciding on enablers, ensure they match up with your deck’s overall plan — as it can vary greatly between Dredge versions.

The most common enabler options are:

Magus of the Bazaar
Drowned Rusalka
Thought Courier
Lore Broker
Bonded Fetch
Llanowar Mentor
Sindbad (fairly horrible)
Fa’adiyah Seer (equally horrible)
Glimpse the Unthinkable
Careful Consideration
Think Twice
Compulsive Research
Greater Good

Of these, Magus of the Bazaar is hands-down the best. He dredges twice as fast as a Thought Courier, who in turn dredges twice as fast as a Llanowar Mentor. While all three are excellent dredgers, there is no card in Standard that must be answered faster than a Magus of the Bazaar.

The Green enablers allow you to build your mana, but they require mana to do so. This means that you will gain a benefit from using them, but the secondary side of the benefit will be seen mostly around turns 4-5. They come out on turn 1, which means they can’t be Remanded, Mana Leaked, or dealt with any two-mana kill spell before activating once. On the play, they can’t be dealt with by Lightning Helix, Volcanic Hammer, Last Gasp, etc. This is true for any turn 1 enabler (with the exception that Green enablers get around Spell Snare as well). The fact that the Green enablers dredge slower, but prepare you for the mid-endgame mean that they are perfect for a control-style Dredge deck.

The Blue enablers do not help you develop your mana, but they dredge much faster since they “draw”. This means that they are more suited to a combo style Dredge deck. A heavy Blue-enabler suite is generally complemented by Gemstone Caverns and/or Simian Spirit Guide, as it is of utmost importance to get them down early.

Comparing the enabler styles is easy. For example, compare a board with three Thought Couriers versus three Llanowar Mentors. The Mentors will create an army in a short time, but will only dredge 1 time per turn (during the draw phase). The Thought Couriers won’t create an army (outside of Narcomoeba), but the three of them will dredge four times per turn (including the draw phase). Both sides have pros and cons.

The spell enablers dredge even faster than the Blue creature enablers, but they are one-time shots. They also don’t leave a creature behind, so your dredges had better flip Narcomoebas (and they better not get killed) or else you will find yourself fizzled out, unable to Dread Return. However, if you are going for pure speed, you won’t get more mileage elsewhere.

Greater Good is an interesting option, essentially dredging the rest of your library the turn it hits the table. In testing so far (and on first glace), it seems like it’s a win-more card, but I haven’t tested it enough to solidify that opinion. Sound off in the forums!

All things considered, you want to have at least 12-16 enablers in your maindeck. Your enablers are fragile and they will die. You need to match their kill/burn with more enablers or you may stall out.

Dredger Suite

The dredger suite speaks volumes on what your deck hopes to accomplish, and what your perceived metagame is. Here are the common options:

Golgari Grave-Troll
Stinkweed Imp
Golgari Thug
Life from the Loam
Golgari Brownscale
Dakmor Salvage

Golgari Grave-Trolls and Stinkweed Imps are generally a four-of in every build. Not only do they dredge for the most, they also are invaluable cards when in play.

Golgari Thug dredges for four, but he has limited use as an actual card. He should only be used in versions that have only one concern — dredging speed.

Life from the Loam is useful for ramping your mana up to five or six so that you can hardcast Trolls or activate Svogthos. It can also be used to recycle Ghost Quarter in some control builds.

Darkblast is an MVP card in certain match-ups and completely useless in others. Its value is truly binary – a 10/10 or a 0/10.

Golgari Brownscale is a dredger that can be used in the place of Loam or Darkblast (or even Stinkweed Imp for some creative designers) for an aggro metagame. This guy, when combined with a Magus or Rusalka, can gain you ridiculous amounts of life, and can take a game quickly out of reach for your opponent.

Dakmor Salvage can be used in your land base to ensure further dredging. The fact that it comes into play tapped means that it belongs in a control version more than a combo version. It’s too bad it is not a Green land for that reason. Dredge 2 is fairly insignificant, as generally just drawing is a better option.

Your dredge suite should typically have 10-12 dredgers. Room in the deck is tight, so I would not go too heavy in dredgers either. You only need 1, but you always want 1. You can skimp on dredgers if you run mostly Blue enablers, as they allow you to draw into them. Green enabler suites should be looking at a 10-12 dredgers, since the Green enablers aren’t that pretty when they are just discarding non-dredgers.

Most builds don’t make the mistake of having too many dredgers, because anything after Trolls and Imps only dredge for three anyway.

Reanimation Targets

Several builds include various reanimation targets. Here are the most common:

Flame-Kin Zealot
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Bogardan Hellkite
Blazing Archon
Angel of Despair
Avatar of Woe
Simic Sky Swallower
Golgari-Grave Troll
Stalking Vengeance/Nantuko Husk

Of course, in any combo build, the Flame-kin kill is Plan A. However, many times you don’t go for Plan A, because you may suspect your opponent capable of removing your Bridges in response to a Dread Return, leaving you with only 3/3 haste creature as a reward for sacrificing three men.

Hellkite can clear swarms of 1/1s, Archon can stop entire decks cold, Angel of Despair can clear an opposing Worship (or Archon), Avatar of Woe can actually be hardcast, SSS is very resilient, and Akroma can end the game in a hurry.

Golgari-Grave Troll is included there even though he’s already a four-of for the enabler suite because he’s almost always larger than the other targets. Some decks can chump a 20/20 troll all day long (read: Mishra’s Factory, Skeletal Vampire) but most will succumb to that gigantic threat.

Stalking Vengeance/Husk is a recent innovation from Benjamin Peebles-Mundy. His analysis of the modification can be found here.

With any list, when you increase the amount of reanimation targets, you dilute your consistency due to the fact that you must cut “engine” cards for the additional targets. However, you make your deck more resilient to multiple Extirpates.

For example, having that extra Akroma in hand feels a little silly when you cut an enabler for her and all your enablers are dead. However, if you go too light on reanimation targets, a double Extirpate on Bridge From Below and Golgari Grave-Troll can leave your deck with no other way to win besides and air assault with Narcomoebas!


There is a suite of other cards that see light in some Dredge lists. Some examples are Simian Spirit Guide, Delirium Skeins, Leyline of the Void, Lost Hours, Brain Pry, Street Wraith, Mishra’s Bauble, and Edge of Autumn and many others. These cards fill the remaining slots of the deck, and allow the deck to be tailored to different metagames.


There are five things to discuss with the manabase:

Gemstone Caverns
Gemstone Mines
Horizon Canopy
Dryad Arbor
Basic Land Count

There are many mistakes made when choosing a land base, and they all revolve around people misinterpreting their deck’s game-plan. The land you choose speaks volumes about what your version of Dredge is trying to do.

The inclusion of Gemstone Caverns typically means that the designer is seeking ways to increase his speed at the sacrifice of some consistency. Gemstone Caverns means that your two-mana enablers can sneak under most countermagic even when on the draw. It means that you will be better apt to race (Dragonstorm, Perilous Storm, etc). However, it also means you will have to mulligan more, and that you will have a harder time reaching three or four mana without the help of Life from the Loam. It also means that you have to be cognizant of the fact that it is legendary. Putting two Gemstone Caverns in play is a pain that you will always remember.

The addition of Gemstone Mines tells me that the designer values early mana consistency over late game development. This choice is more suitable to a strict combo version of Dredge over a more controllish Green build.

Horizon Canopy can be a great boon in Green versions, offering an additional dredge at essentially no cost. Its failing is that it offers a speed boost (free dredge) in a land that gives Green mana on turn 1. Horizon Canopy would be much better if it could provide Blue mana. Combo versions of Dredge really need every land to tap for Blue mana on turn 1 to ensure a turn 1 Blue enabler. Seeing a Horizon Canopy in a Blue combo version tells me that the player modified a list before playing the deck. That being said, the bonus is still a great option in the Green dredge versions. Just make sure you acknowledge that the price you pay for the extra speed boost is greater vulnerability to Blood Moon effects.

Dryad Arbor is a risky choice in an already fragile deck. The inclusion of Dryad Arbor tells me that the designer wanted to increase their chances of hitting an early Dread Return, and are willing to risk a lot for it. The first knock is that it offers Green mana but cannot tap for mana on turn 1. Most Green-heavy decks want Green mana on turn 1 for Llanowar Mentors or Greenseekers. This means that if it is your only land, your Green enabler is coming out on turn 2 — which negates half the value of running Green enablers. The second knock is that most Dredge decks skimp pretty tightly on land in order to ensure that they get all their relevant cards faster, and ensure the dredges turn over as much gas as possible. Having a land that dies to any removal in standard inside a deck that already skimps on land is a risky proposition at best.

The last thing to consider when choosing your land base is your basic land count. Many Red decks are packing Blood Moon effects (either the Blood Moon itself, or Magus of the Moon) because they are pretty good in the land of post-Ravnica. If a Blood Moon effect hits the table when you have no enablers out, you will have one option: draw-phase dredging for Narcomoebas and a Dread Return. That gameplan typically doesn’t work out so well.

I would suggest keeping at least five basic lands in your manabase so that you can still cast spells post-Blood Moon. Typically, you want those basic lands to be Forests or Swamps for either Imp recursion or Troll recursion. Islands would be nice too, but remember that the match-ups that typically bring in Blood Moons (Gruul, Red burn, etc), casting Imps and Trolls is more important than casting Blue enablers. However, in combo-heavy Blue versions, you want just about every land in the deck to tap for Blue mana — so there is some min/maxing that you must consider when running a combo version and choosing your basic land suite.

Sample Decklists

Tomorrow, I’ll tackle the specific matchups, and from that we’ll know each card and its value against each deck. Now, we’ll make some decklists to fight various metagames. I will present the core of some decks, and give some suggestions on lists to combat specific metagames.

When building a Dredge version, the main thing you should be concerned with is what metagame do you think you are running this deck up against. This will decide your deck’s goal: combo or control (or a mix). Then you should align every card choice into that goal. Some card choices complement each other. The obvious ones are Gemstone Caverns/Simian Spirit Guides and Blue enablers. Other more subtle links are the amount of Dread Returns (three or four) and your enabler suite (Blue- or Green-heavy). I will speak on the latter in a bit. You should know these interactions before you make modifications to a successful decklist.


4 Magus of the Bazaar
4 Thought Courier
3 Drowned Rusalka

4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Stinkweed Imp

4 Narcomoeba
4 Bridge from Below
3 Dread Return
2 Flame-Kin Zealot

18 Land (consisting of 13-15 nonbasic lands including 2-4 Caverns, 2-4 Mines. 3-5 Basics — keeping in mind when you want Blue/Green/Black mana)

10 free slots

Of these 10 free slots, you should be adding 3-6 enablers, 1-3 dredgers, 0-2 land, then fill with others. I generally like to have at least 14 enablers and 10 dredgers. I’ve gone as high as 18 enablers in burn-heavy metagames.

For a slower metagame that cannot react early (lots of Solar Flare, Angelfire, Dragonstorm), I would suggest adding three Lore Brokers, two Loams, four Simian Spirit Guides, one land for your starting sixty.

For a combo and aggro heavy metagame (Gruul, Dragonstorm, Hatching Plans), I would suggest adding three Llanowar Mentors, one Darkblast, one Loam, one land, and four Delirium Skeins.

For a control heavy metagame (Dralnu, Pickles, URzatron), I would suggest adding four Llanowar Mentors, two Greenseekers, two lands (one extra Svogthos), two Loams, and making the manabase Green-heavy to accommodate the six extra Green turn 1 enablers.

For a Grave-combo heavy meta (Dredge, Project X, Reanimator, Solar Flare), I would suggest two Darkblasts, one Loam, three Greenseeker / Llanowar Mentor / Bonded Fetch, three Leyline of the Void maindeck, and one land.

All of those options can be changed by whatever cards you are more comfortable with, and are only presented as general suggestions. You should never expose yourself too much to misjudging the actual metagame. There are some minor tweaks, such as going one Loam, two Darkblast versus two Loam, one Darkblast. Then there are major changes such as replacing Imps with Brownscales against an expected burn heavy metagame. It’s generally a better idea to err on the side of caution.


4 Magus of the Bazaar
4 Llanowar Mentor
3 Drowned Rusalka

4 Golgari-Grave Troll

4 Narcomoeba
4 Bridge from Below
4 Dread Return

18 Land (consisting of 13-15 nonbasic lands including 2-4 Caverns, 2-4 Mines. 3-5 Basics — keeping in mind when you want Blue/Green/Black mana)

15 free slots

Generally, Stinkweed Imps are added, but some builds can’t cast them. For a very controllish pure U/G build, you can add Golgari Brownscales in their place if you expect an aggro heavy metagame (and you are brave).

The fourth Dread Return should generally be added when you don’t have eight Blue Looters (Magus / Thought Courier / Bonded Fetch / Lore Broker are “Looters,” of course). The Blue Looters dredge faster, so three Dread Returns is generally enough. The Green ones dredge a little slower, but you still want that early Dread Return, so the 4th Dread maindeck is often a good idea in these builds. It’s important to understand such internal synergies between your cards.

Control versions generally want at least two different reanimation targets to hedge Extirpate vulnerability. Your “strength” is resilience, so push that strength. Control builds can survive even four Extirpates.

Most control builds still have Flame-kins. However, I would suggest the move away from Flame-kins if your version is at the far end of control. The slower you become, the more you should move away from combo style cards, and move towards cards that complement resiliency.

For a slower metagame that cannot react early (Solar Flare, Angelfire, Dragonstorm), I would suggest filling the fifteen extra slots by adding three Loams, two Greenseekers, two Delirium Skeins, four Imps, two Flame-kins, one Akroma, and one other reanimation target of your choice (Blazing Archon, Angel of Despair, Avatar of Woe, Bogardan Hellkite, etc). Here, you want to fill up on low-mana enablers to sneak under countermagic.

For a combo and aggro heavy metagame (Gruul, Dragonstorm, Hatching Plans), I would suggest adding four Greenseekers, four Golgari Brownscales, three Delirium Skeins, two Blazing Archon, and two Akroma. Combo will be very difficult for a slower version if it doesn’t pack some disruption. Make sure you are aware of this.

For a control heavy metagame (Dralnu, Pickles, URzatron), I would suggest adding four Greenseekers, one extra Svogthos, three Loams, four Imps, one Flame-kin, one Akroma, and one Hellkite. Only one extra land should be fine, since you have so many Mentors/Seekers/Loams. Here, your main plan is to sneak a turn 1 enabler under counters, and force the Wrath. Your backup of Svogthos is very solid.

For a Grave-combo heavy meta (Dredge, Project X, Reanimator, Solar Flare), I would suggest four Imps, two Darkblasts, one Loam, four Thought Courier / Bonded Fetch, three Leyline of the Void maindeck, 1 Blazing Archon. Here, you need to bring your speed up (hence the Thought Courier), or else you will be too slow and insignificant to stop them. Leylines maindeck will be nice, as well as Darkblasts. In the sideboard, I would certainly have a few extra reanimation targets for other matchups.

For both Combo and Control, there are extremes. For combo, you can go with an enabler suite of: four Magus of the Bazaar, four Thought Courier, four Glimpse the Unthinkable, three Compulsive Research, with Golgari Thugs as the extra dredgers, and Simian Spirit Guides, Gemstone Caverns, and Street Wraiths / Edge of Autumn in the last slots. This would probably be the fastest version of dredge you could create — capable of killing on turn 2. However, it is also extremely easy to disrupt, and highly susceptible to fizzling.

For an extreme take on control, you could eschew the Blue completely and go with a B/G build with only Green enablers, but lots of Black disruption.

All of those options can be changed by whatever cards you are more comfortable with. Dredge is highly customizable, and can be played in many different styles.

So, that’s the core decks sorted, with an eye on your specific metagame. Next time, we tackle the matchups. Gruul, Dragonstorm, Dralnu, Pickles, Hatching Plans, URzatron, and more… tune in tomorrow!

Keith St. Jean
Cromulantkeith on the forums
WoWChamp on MTGO